30 Years of AlumNet
Founder shares e-newsletter history
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
A collage of two pictures; left: Bob Blystone, Ph.D. speaks at a podium; right: a printed copy of the first issue of AlumNet

AlumNet, Trinity University’s alumni-focused e-newsletter, was first distributed on September 1, 1992 to 20 Tigers. Today, the publication reaches approximately 23,000 alumni email inboxes every month—sharing campus news, classmate updates, spotlight stories, and upcoming alumni events. In celebration of its 30th anniversary, we asked professor emeritus of biology and founder of AlumNet, Bob Blystone, Ph.D., to share about its beginnings and journey through the decades.


During the summer of 1992, I decided it was time to take advantage of computer technology and organize some alumni into an email group. To place this idea into context, a little technical history is in order.  

The mid-1970s saw the creation of email protocols, which were updated in 1982 to modern-day Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocols (TCP/IP). Then, in 1986 something called a Listserv was created by Eric Thomas, and by 1988, a List of Lists had been established, paving the way to organize and send email to many subscribers at one time. Thus, Thomas wrote the software that eventually allowed a Trinity biology professor to create an email list of former students.

My motivations for starting the List were two-fold: 1) I wanted to know where my former students were in their professional careers, and 2) I wanted to help my current students find summer employment and research opportunities. Who better to help in this second endeavor than Trinity alumni? I contacted Larry Gindler and Steve Curry ’84 of the Trinity Computing Center and presented my idea. They suggested that a catchy but short name for the list was needed, and the name AlumNet evolved. Curry checked the List of Lists, the Computer Center set up the account, and the Listserv was ready to go. I had collected 20 email addresses of former students, entered those addresses into the AlumNet Listserv, and we were off and running.  

The early editions of AlumNet are preserved on floppy disks.

At first, I sent out a weekly AlumNet newsletter of about 300 words. Over the course of the next six months, I had acquired nearly 100 subscribers, most of whom I had taught. With AlumNet growing and my new responsibilities of running a Web server, Steve Curry offered to partner and then take over the AlumNet duties. 

“The original content of AlumNet mostly stemmed from the alumni themselves telling each other where they were and what they were doing,” Curry describes. “MySpace, the forerunner to Facebook, had not yet been created—social media as we know it today did not exist.” Curry increased the content and the subscriber list significantly during the course of the next year.  

As the success of AlumNet grew, Curry and I approached the Office of Alumni Relations seeking support for the operation of the Listserv. Fortunately, Selim Sharif of Alumni Relations agreed to take over AlumNet; and, under his direction, our electronic alumni newsletter grew to almost 7,000 subscribers by 2002.  

Subsequently, some new upstart called Facebook appeared in 2004. One of the functions of AlumNet was subsumed into Facebook: alums keeping up with alums. Social networking became the norm, and AlumNet was reworked. It no longer has the focus that it had twenty years ago. There is a phrase that fits this circumstance: “It was fun while it lasted.” Curry became a minister, both myself and Sharif retired, and now the Office of Alumni Relations is still keeping up with over 29,000 Trinity alums.

 

Robert Blystone, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biology, Trinity University.

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