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1️⃣ [1975-1991] First associations and online communities

· 10 min read
Raul Jimenez Ortega
⚠️ Notices and acknowledgments

I would like to start by clarifying that:

  • I was born in 1984, so what I put in this article is mostly the result of my research and contributions received.
  • I am sure that this article has gaps and errors.
  • I am grateful for all contributions, which of course will be appreciated and will be under CC Attribution 4.0 International.

Acknowledgments: to JJ Merelo for his contributions and to SCIE because their website has been enormously helpful.

In this first article of the series "History of technical communities," we will review the history of technical communities in Spain, before the Internet, during the era when computing arrived and the revolution of personal computers began.

Previous context

Let's review some facts from the national and international context to set the stage.

United States

1975 is the year when the United States ended the Vietnam War.

IBM was already 64 years old, the giant and world leader in manufacturing computers (mainframes) used by companies, government institutions, and academia.

Another company, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), which in 1998 would be acquired by Compaq, began marketing in 1960 what they called Programmed Data Processors (PDP) around which user groups would be created.

At that time Xerox held a dominant position in the photocopier market. It was one of its printers that in 1980 would give rise to the anecdote that would eventually lead Richard Stallman to the creation of the Free Software Foundation.

Until recently, software was not perceived as a product. It was when IBM decided to unbundle it from hardware (in 1969) that the independent software vendor industry (ISVs) was born, where companies such as Microsoft would soon play a fundamental role.

By this time, some of the first user groups or communities I could find were already a few years old, such as:

  • TMRC, MIT students related to hacking culture (1946).
  • SHARE, IBM mainframe user group (1955).
  • GUIDE, an IBM systems user group (1956).
  • DECUS, the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) computer user group (1961).

In 1963, the IEEE was created, a non-profit organization that would later create standards such as Ethernet (1983), Wi-Fi (1997), etc.

By then, some notable computing conferences that brought together technical profiles had already been held, such as the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (1954) and the Symposium on Operating Systems Principles (1967).

On the other hand, Intel, already 7 years old, launched the first microprocessor in 1971, the Intel 4004 (at a cost of $450, as of 2023), which would revolutionize the personal computer industry.


Now let's review some important facts related to computing in Spain before the dictator Francisco Franco died in 1975 after 36 years in power.

Up to that date, the most notable figure in the sector I have found is José García Santesmases, a physicist and pioneer of computing in Spain who was 68 years old that year. He:

It was also before Franco's death that the Association of Computing Technicians (1967) and the Institute of Computing under the Ministry of Education and Science (1969) were created.

In 1971, an order (law) was approved in Spain, and that would establish the study plans for the different degrees, which shortly afterwards would give rise to the first Faculties of Computer Science.

The Spanish transition

The same year Franco died, in the United States, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Microsoft and launched what is considered the first personal computer that was well-received by the market (in terms of performance/price ratio), the Altair 8800.

In this year (1975), the mythical Homebrew Computer Club was also founded, where Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs showed their Apple 1 in 1976, a moment “immortalized” in movies like Pirates of Silicon Valley (see sequence) or Jobs (2013).

In 1976, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne founded Apple, and launched the Apple-1. The same year Bill Gates wrote his famous letter “An Open Letter to Hobbyists”.


The first film documenting the Apple-Microsoft rivalry, Pirates of Silicon Valley, was not released until 1999.

That year was when the first Computer Sciences Faculties were created in Spain at the Polytechnic Universities of Madrid and Barcelona, and the University of Valladolid (see more).

First associations

On June 15, 1977, the first democratic elections were held in Spain.

Shortly after, the Constitution of Spain (1978) was approved, which among many other things includes the right to freedom of association, which would promote the formation of many associations in Spain from which articles, manuals, and case studies would be published.

Some of these associations are:

In parallel, outside Spain, other notable groups were formed:

First online communities

Also, around this time (early 80s), the first online communities could be said to emerge, gathering around bulletin board systems (BBS), the precursors to today's forums.

Almost in parallel, Usenet emerged (~1980), another system for exchanging opinions and experiences. This is the system Richard Stallman used in 1983 to announce his plan for the GNU operating system. Two years later, in 1985, he founded the Free Software Foundation, whose philosophy would have a significant impact on the world of software and soon after on hardware, and of course around many technical communities.

Shortly after Usenet, in the year when Teletext was being experimented with in Spain and we could listen to Michael Jackson's recently released Thriller on the walkmans (1982), Telefónica began marketing Minitel, a system that could be used to access the phone book, retail shopping, access company information services, databases, forums, and messaging.

In that same year (1982), Sun Microsystems was founded, a company that would compete with DEC in the sale of servers and workstations, and where in 1991 they would start working on the project that would result in the Java language.

In 1984, FidoNet emerged, a popular network of BBS nodes that would gain traction in Spain and for the first time allow many strangers to communicate worldwide via computers over telephone lines. For example, the node "2:345/801" was the address of a board called “Atlantis” whose operator was Alfredo Sanchez, from Granada, and whose phone number was “958132748”. More information in "Traveling in time: SysOp of a BBS in 1997 and Fidonet in Spain". Here is another list of nodes from 1987, and here are other nodes from Spain.


In the national scene, most of the technical conferences and events held were more from the university sector:

And in the United States, here are some that seemed interesting to highlight:

PCs and video games

Throughout this decade (the 80s), 386 (1985) and 486 (1989) computers arrived in many Spanish homes, and video game consoles began to flood houses: Commodore 64 (1982), Nintendo NES (1983), Sega SG-1000 (1983) Amstrad CPC (1984), Amiga (1985), Atari 7800 (1986), Game Boy (1989), ... In this climate, the first meeting called the Game Developers Conference was organized in 1988, in California, with about 20 people that would grow to about 125 the following year, and today gathers nearly 28,000 people.

As can be read in the History of personal computers in Wikipedia page, by this time Texas Instruments was the largest chip manufacturer in the world, and one of the high-tech electronics companies that entered the home computer market in 1979.

The Compaq Computer Corporation founders worked there, until ~1978, when they founded Compaq and launched their first product, a portable personal computer (portable computer) inspired by Osborne 1 but compatible with IBM software, mainly oriented to professionals. If you want to know more, the documentary "Silicon Cowboys" tells the story of Compaq and its impact on the development of portable computers. You can watch the launch event here.

End of the era

Other relevant events at the end of this era:

  • RedIRIS (1988) emerged in Spain, the Interconnection Network of Computing Resources for universities and research centers.
  • Guy Kawasaki created a team of evangelists at Apple.
  • The popular Concurrent Versions System (CVS) was born (1990).
  • Also in 1990, Open Design Circuits proposed the creation of a hardware design community with the spirit of free software (more).
  • Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger introduced the concept of “Community of Practice” that accompanies us to this day and is defined as: “a group of people who share an interest, deepen their knowledge and experience in the area through continuous interaction that strengthens their relationships” (1991).

Finally, what would change society and the community ecosystem in the coming years was presented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1991, the foundations of the World Wide Web.


As we have observed, during this era, computing arrived in Spain, along with the constitution and the first associations, which emerged around the scientific and university community.

  • The first computing, automation, and artificial intelligence conferences were held. At the same time, BBS and Usenet emerged, where the first more informal online communities began to form.
  • Internationally, the first user groups and computer hobbyist clubs emerged around electronics, specific company systems, hacking... along with some conferences that were mainly face-to-face.

In summary, these groups and conferences talked about: operating systems, automation, robotics, circuits, programming languages, artificial intelligence, IBM systems, Apple, video games, networks, and security.

Based on this information, I would say that when we talked about community in Spain at this time, we mainly referred to: a group of people who meet in person on their own initiative and share an interest in software, whose goal is professional development. Mainly to publish articles, manuals, and case studies.

And you, what do you think?

If you liked it, you can continue reading in the following article of the saga: "1992-2003: The rise of online communities".