Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Remembering Diversity University

It is with some sadness that I note the passing a couple of years ago of an online environment that once held tremendous significance in my life. I got to thinking about it today as Mrs. Woody and I prepare to celebrate a dozen years of wedded bliss. I quickly found that the environment no longer seems to exist. A library association newsletter explains: Diversity University MOO was taken offline early in 2006 after a run of (depending on whose history you read) between 11 and 14 years. (I'd bumped into the librarian who wrote the article, by the way. A tremendous lady.) DU was the brain-child of Jeanne McWhorter who saw in it the tremendous potential for on-line education, with particular benefits for many with learning disabilities. What it became was a mighty social network that pre-dated Facebook or MySpace by a good many years, and boasted a sophistication that AOL's chat rooms could only dream of.

For the uninitiated, a MOO (MUD, Object Oriented) was an online TELNET technology based on an old text-based gaming platform. An over-simplification, to be sure, but there are numerous articles on Wikipedia and elsewhere that explain the concept more fully.

Diversity University was unique in that it had a definite purpose and theme. Its goal was to provide an online learning environment and was patterned after a typical college campus. You could visit numerous buildings (history, art, library, etc.) and socialize anywhere on campus. I became a programmer there and created some rooms in the US History section.

But for me, the most significant aspect of my experience at DU was bumping into the future Mrs. Woody after a mutual absence of more than a dozen years.

By sheer coincidence (or not, we've since decided) we were both evaluating DU as a technology for potential use in our respective industries (aerospace for me, and educational publishing for her). By the time we bumped into each other, I was well into actually programming my own rooms and controls. Mrs. Woody was just getting her feet wet, so to speak, and saw a character online one day who went by the name of "Woody" (it's always been a nickname of mine) and who claimed to be from a town where she used to live. The fact that this Woody had been a singer and an actor particularly intrigued her. So she asked him about it.

Imagine my shock and surprise to hear from this very pretty blond lady whom I hadn't seen since just after my mission.

The rest, as they say, is history. No mere coincidence can account for our meeting that day. I had by that time decided to separate from my first wife in advance of our inevitable divorce, and it is perhaps fortuitous that she lost her connection information to DU for a couple of weeks after our chance encounter (I hadn't even asked her for her phone number). By the time we met virtually again, I was on my way to bachelorhood. Our friendship was rekindled in due time and blossomed to the point where I knew that here was my eternal soulmate.

So Diversity University holds a very special place in my heart. It was there, for example, that she first called me "Bud." I'd never gone by that name in my life, but was thrilled when she tagged me with it. That was my grandfather's nickname, and I considered it a true honor to be called that by this wonderful woman. It was there also that we consumed many an hour playing virtual Scrabble® (in the days before company lawyers threatened anyone who dared create and play such a game online). We chatted endlessly about anything and everything that popped into our minds. And we continued to build worlds together there and on other MOOs that she joined with me. It became good practice for the worlds we would soon build together in real life.

The last time I was able to log on to DU (apparently more than a couple of years ago) I visited my old virtual office and found everything in order. Nice and neat; not anything at all like my real office. And Mrs. Woody's character sitting in the office with me. We were both asleep, according to the interface. We'd been asleep for many years by that time.

Now it's gone. I'd like to think that whoever retired it kept a copy of it on some archive somewhere. I hate to think that all that creativity just simply vanished into the ether. I had met some wonderful personalities over the months I was active there. One Scottish gent, fresh out of college and with no prospects for work there, came to America to be with a sweet lady he'd met at DU himself. Last I'd heard from them they were planning their life together in West Virginia, I think. There was a young kid from the Netherlands who loved to chat with Mrs. Woody and me over a wide range of topics. His desire to learn about American life was insatiable. There was the passionate young liberal meteorologist who loved to get into political discussions with the campus "token conservative." He tried to tweak me on all sorts of issues, and I generally tweaked him right back. Those were fun conversations. Mrs. Woody and I even had a chance to meet another DU couple who had flown out to Los Angeles to attend a conference, and specifically wanted to meet us. We'd become good friends in the virtual world, and meeting them was a wonderful experience. She had numerous health challenges, though, and I often wonder if she's still okay, or even still with us. If not, I hope she knows that we love her and wish her well.

There were only a couple of personalities that I tried to avoid over that span of time, and in each case they tended to burn out and leave before I got too distracted myself. Otherwise, I have nothing but fond memories of my time spent at DU. I got married to the best part of that experience, and we've lived happily ever after.

Long live Diversity University.


Ben Udell said...

I don't suppose you happened to save a copy of the pdf of the library association newsletter explaining the end of Diversity University. The link is broken, I can't find it elsewhere at the link site, and the Wayback Machine thinks it has a copy done on August 28, 2008 but, when I've clicked to view (various times during the past months), I merely get the message "The New Wayback Machine is having problems. Please try again later."

I'd like to get the PDF for a page http://www.cspeirce.com/menu/people/moo/access.htm at Arisbe: The Peirce Gateway.

Thank you for your attention.

Woody said...

Ben, most unfortunately I do not. Looks like they reorganized that library site and didn't keep any archives past a few years ago. My apologies.

I was, of course, astonished that I ended up being referenced on the closure of DU. I'm surprised more people haven't written about the experience.

Thanks for your interest!

Ben Udell said...

Woody, I got it!

I contacted the Connecticut Library Association but they had trouble finding it and forwarded the request to Kate at Loose Cannon Librarian (blog). Then I did some renewed Web searching and found reason to think that Prof. Jane M. McGinn at Southern Connecticut State U. had a copy. She turned out not to, but went to the library, found a hardcopy, and PDF'd it to me. She's very sweet!

HTML page with PNG image of the article "A Sad Day: Mourning the Death of DU MOO" by Isabel Danforth, Connecticut Libraries, March 2006. (One can also click at that page to see the full PDF of the 12-page newsletter, but it's large.)