Story of the tilde servers and publicly accesible UNIX servers

History of tilde servers and publicly accessible UNIX servers

We tend to associate "Internet" with the WWW, but not only is the Internet not the same as web pages, but the web and its protocol (HTTP) were not even one of the first services to emerge or the most popular until well into the 90's. For example, when in 1993 the famous television program on American computers The Computer Chronicles presented in an Internet chapter, they did not get to talk about the WWW.

Several of the protocols and services of that era (such as Gopher, USENET (NNTP)) were faded into oblivion with the commercial era of the Internet as early as the second half of the 1990s, although none disappeared completely. The email was kept and the WWW was the big winner. Then the story: The burst of the .com bubble in the 2000s, social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, the massification of the Internet in the developing world and the arrival of smartphones.

The Tilde movement is fairly recent and arose almost by chance when Paul Ford, a software consultant, writer, and columnist has a very emotional encounter with an entry by Stevie Nicks (a former Fleetwood Mac member singer) on a website by way of daily thanking the soldiers of the armed forces in the years of the invasion of Afghanistan curiously populated with a strange character: ~ (virguilla or tilde). In conversation he meets a computer scientist who reminds him that this symbol was prominent in the early days of the web where the most common use was for personal pages and text. Ford decides that he is going to create a server to give away terminal accounts to anyone who asked for one via Twitter and thereby create many similar web pages [Story told by ~ ford himself]. This is how Tilde.club originally came about in October 2014 (almost exactly ten years after Nicks' post was published). Tilde.club ends up closing a year later.

The growth of Tilde.club was explosive, donations arrived and computer scientists offered to collaborate. In addition, this consumed Ford's time to the point that there came a time when no more accounts could be created. The flip side of this moment is the number of people who couldn't get an account. One of them is ~ben who in an interview tells how after learning about the SDF and becoming frustrated by its restrictions and not being able to have an account at Tilde.club/town, he decides to create his own cheap virtual server that grows to have about 500 users who converted to tilde.team and which is today one of the pillars of the movement that led to its convergence in the tildeverse (a federation of tilde servers with different emphases).

A new generation

Unlike other pre-existing services, tilde servers offer services for free and are only funded by donations, not memberships. Nor are they focused on an audience with exclusively computer interests. Some have a focus on specific audiences (science fiction, food, or people from a specific background). They usually have a small and / or external infrastructure.

In a way, you could say that the Tilde movement of the small Internet was accidental, but there are a couple of elements that explain it:

Causes and antecedents

A reaction to web marketing

Of course, not everyone stopped using Gopher (a file sharing protocol very similar to a rudimentary web and in text mode) or the USENET groups or the mailing lists. But even forums and initiatives such as Angelfire or Geocities disappeared as they were not perceived as profitable by their owners. Finally, all this was overcome today by social networks such as Facebook or Twitter and web services such as Google that greatly centralize Internet traffic. A very web-based Internet but that also has the commercial component above all else. Where the user is a potential client (permanent spectator of digital advertising) but is always a product (his behavior is monitored, his preferences stored, etc). The services that the ticks provide are free and user input is encouraged in a non-transactional way. Read, for example, the RTC social contract which is a political statement about the state of the current Internet.


During the 2010s, virtual movements such as vaporwave were recorded, especially in North America but also in Europe that nostalgically recall the 80s and 90s. Part of the 90s was the emergence of the web and some accents were focused, especially at the beginning on returning to the web aesthetic that was common in those years where cascading style sheets were somewhat unknown. Even people who didn't live in the 90s are drawn to the aesthetics of the years their parents grew up.

The missing link: The PAUS

During the late years 80 network connections are becoming popular in Europe and North America people begin to buy computers that are connected through telephone calls to other computer equipment, whether owned by universities, companies or individuals. One type of system was that of bulletin boards or BBS that allow you to meet other people and talk about different topics in a dynamic similar to that of a current Internet forum. One of those systems was SDF that started running on an Apple IIe in 1987 and since 1990 (with highs and lows) it works through different UNIX clones. Thanks to the cheaper technology and due to the need to finance the system, SDF eventually began to provide Internet connection services and use of the system.

The SDF and other public access systems such as Grex, Polar or Blinkenshell, although they are not part of this world, Tilde did show that it was possible to create a world from servers. In fact, many people cohabit the world of public access UNIX servers and tildes.

The price of infrastructure has dropped

During the first years of network computing, acquiring a computer was very expensive and they were practically not seen outside the first world, however, technology and especially electronics thanks to miniaturization and the massification of it has dropped a lot in price. This allows paying for a hosting service or virtual server to be quite inexpensive. Some tildes are hosted on a Raspberry Pi in a person's home. Public access servers like SDF have their own infrastructure and charge for some services or a membership that grants certain rights.

Translated by ~novaburst from https://texto-plano.xyz/historia-tilde.htm