After 17 years, the Internet’s first-ever GIjOE forum, a Usenet newsgroup affectionately dubbed “The Sandbox,” continues to serve as a reliable gathering place for fans and collectors online. According to its “About this Group” activity history, the first-ever recorded post to the ‘box was made back on October 2, 1995 by a collector named Paul Shaffelburg who was offering some of his 3 3/4″ GIjOEs for sale. From that little seed, thousands and thousands of other posts would follow, with the “Top Posters” of all time including such familiar collector names as J. Steven York, Rudy Panucci, THOR, Lanny Latham and of course, Dave “TANKER” Matteson.
Over time, the Sandbox would evolve from a simple bulletin board for placing ads into a living, breathing, “Virtual Town Hall” of GIjOE and action figure collectors. Countless deals were made and many of the posters would go on to forge close, personal friendships. Even if the individuals never met in person, many grew to know each other quite well through their daily, mutual interactions in the ‘box.
Unfortunately, the Sandbox has had its darker times as well. “Flame Wars,” or heated, online arguments, would occasionally erupt between individual fans. If they got bad enough, the arguments could consume much of the daily discourse of the group, driving some collectors away in frustration. Some of the worst “flamers” became virtual online pariahs, largely unwelcome and verbally attacked whenever they reappeared. Eventually, fans learned that if they weren’t happy with what was being said, they could simply “block” or skip over the posts by individuals they disliked and the Flame Wars subsided.
Nowadays, with all the newer websites and forums competing for a fan’s attention, daily traffic in this first, simplest GIjOE forum has crawled to a virtual standstill. By today’s standards, it is dramatically outdated. You can’t view fancy animations, post photos or “chat” in real time. In an attempt to keep its legacy alive, one of the ‘box’s top posters, Dave Matteson, created a newer version of the ‘box over on Facebook. Matteson’s new site appears to be doing well, but the first and original Sandbox continues to hold a place very dear to the hearts of GijOE fans.
Ominously, according to Google, “The old Google Groups will be going away soon.” It appears that they plan to either revamp, remove or replace the old newsreader groups entirely. At this time, it’s not clear if that means the original Sandbox is in danger of facing “online extinction” or not. Let’s hope Google doesn’t completely erase over 17 years of online GIjOE history!