Theresa M. Senft
CommuniTree was a San Francisco–based electronic bulletin-board service (BBS) begun in 1978 as a social experiment in free speech and community building. Closed as a result of vandalism by young users in 1982, CommuniTree's destruction is one of the earliest documented examples of deviant user behavior in an online environment. Before CommuniTree, BBSs were constructed as computerized metaphors for physical bulletin boards: They were places to post information, arranged alphabetically or by date. But as virtual-community expert Howard Rheingold observes, “CommuniTree, starting with its name, was specifically focused on the notion of using BBSs to build community, at a time when most other BBSers were still more interested in the technology itself.” In 1978, programmer Jon James designed CommuniTree's software to resemble a tree structure, with each line of conversation functioning as a branch, flourishing or dying based on user interest. CommuniTree was emblematic of the spirit of “virtual hippiedom” ...