Conference of the curtain-twitchers

With 16,000 users and a 'village' feel, CIX means you'll never be stuck for a gossip, says Steve Homer
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There is still something rather quaint about CIX, the UK's largest online service. It has something of the feel of a village, and because it is British, there is nowhere better to go if you want local information.

CIX was born in the late Eighties. It has just introduced full Internet services with graphical access to the World Wide Web and so forth, but it is its conferencing system that makes it such a useful online service. With some 16,000 users chatting to each other, exchanging gossip and passing on information, there really is no other service like it. Most users rate it better than CompuServe's forums and it is certainly much more coherent than the Internet's Usenet groups.

There are 5,500 conferences on CIX. These cover topics from wine appreciation to sailing, from philosophy to German and from computers to cars. Most of these conferences are subdivided into topics. The travel conference, for example, has topics such as tips, tickets and questions.

The whole ethos of CIX is about people finding communities of interest. If CIX has one failing, it is that it's still too computer-dominated - though, given the medium, that is hardly surprising.

The CIX conference system is very easy to use via what is called an "off- line reader" or OLR. This is a piece of Windows software that allows you to see the messages in the conferences and compose contributions while you are not connected. What the software does is dial into CIX, grab all the messages, post any messages you have written and then log off again - usually in less than two minutes. You then read the collected messages at your leisure and compose replies without the worry of huge online charges. You are only charged for the few seconds you are actually connected.

Until last year, it was available only by dialling into a number in London. This was a not a big problem with the offline readers, but the advent of full Net access has brought much longer online times. CIX is now in the process of rolling out dial-in points around the country.

CIX can be reached on 0181-296 9666 or e-mail Dialling into the conferencing system costs 6p per minute peak and 4p per minute off-peak with a minimum charge of pounds 6.25 per month. Internet access is 1p per minute, although the minimum if you want this is pounds 15 a month. The Ameol OLR is shareware - you get it free but pay pounds 45 to register it if you want some of the more advanced functions. Registration normally costs pounds 20 but this fee will be waived for readers of the 'Independent' who call in the next 28 days. All prices exclude VAT.