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Originally, accounts on The Source were sold via retail packages which included manuals along with access information.

The Source (Source Telecomputing Corporation) was an early online service, one of the first such services to be oriented toward and available to the general public. The Source described itself as follows:

It's not hardware. It's not software. But it can take your personal computer anywhere in the world.

The Source was in operation from 1979 to 1989, when it was purchased by rival CompuServe and discontinued sometime thereafter. The Source's headquarters were located at 1616 Anderson Road, McLean, Virginia 22102 (it maintained an additional address at P.O. Box 1305, McLean, Virginia 22101-1305).

The Source was founded as Compucom by Bill von Meister, who had previously operated Control Video Corporation — a company that many confuse with Control Data Corporation, a company that once loaned $5 million to STC. Marketing materials for The Source from 1985 stated that The Source was a service mark of Source Telecomputing Corporation, a subsidiary of The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., and expressly state that The Source services were offered in participation with Control Data Corporation.

At its peak, it had 80,000 members. During much of its existence it charged a start-up fee of about US$100 and hourly usage rates on the order of $10 per hour. In 1984, the registration fee was $49.95, and The Source charged $20.75 per hour between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and $7.75 per hour on nights, weekends and holidays for 300 baud service. For 1200 baud service, there was an additional $5.00 per hour surcharge during weekday hours, and a $3.00 per hour surcharge for 1200 baud service at all other times. To place these costs for data services into an historical context, The Source's base nighttime and weekend rate of $7.75 per hour in 1984 was approximately twice the federal minimum hourly wage in this same time period, placing the ability to access data with a personal computer in the hands of businesses and upper-middle-class households only. Just as the expense of books gave rise to the library, the advent of data services provided by school and public library computers was a natural progression during this period in history.

The Source provided news sources, weather, stock quotations, a shopping service, electronic mail, various databases, online text of magazines, and airline schedules. It also had a newsgroup-like facility known as PARTICIPATE (or PARTI), which was developed by Participation Systems of Winchester, Massachusetts. PARTICIPATE provided what it called "many to many" communications, or computer conferencing, and hosted "Electures" on The Source, such as Paul Levinson's "Space: Humanizing the Universe" in the spring of 1985.

Intended for use with 300- and 1200-baud dial-up telephone connections, The Source was text-based for most of its existence.

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