Trek Online (abbreviated TOL) was a Star Trek sim club renowned for its tight-knit community and offbeat style. It existed from 1996 to 2004.
Trek Online was a leader of the simming community on America Online and a founding member of the Simming League. It was one of the first simming republics and built itself around openness, communication, and a focus on club-wide events. Trek Online purposely capped its growth in late 1997 when it reached one hundred members, enabling it field a wide range of sims and activities while retaining the tight-knit feel of a small club. Until its collapse in 2003/2004, the club ran a dozen sims, multiple trivia games and activities, and was home to 90 to 120 members at any given time.
- Also see: The Sims of Trek Online
Trek Online primarily fielded Star Trek chat sims, with Federation starships set in the DS9/Voyager era the most numerous. Of these, the USS Generation, USS Vindicator, USS Endeavor, and USS Stonewall were a constant presence during the first half of the club's history. In later years the Generation and Endeavor were joined by the USS Challenger, and USS Dark Angel as the club's core sims. Trek Online also featured several other long running chat sims, including two Klingon sims, the IKS Dark Falcon, and the IKS Dark Claw, a Romulan sim, the ISS Vorta, a classic era vessel, the USS Wrightstown, and a future era sim, the USS Avenger.
Sim hosts in Trek Online were sticklers for starting and ending their sims on time, sending out weekly logs, using proper simming language, and remaining within the probable bounds of Star Trek canon. Nevertheless, TOL's sims were known for their creativity, which manifested itself in a number of ways. Subtle gags and running feuds between characters contributed to plots that sometimes bordered on the Monty Pythonesque. Multi-month story arcs were common, and a few times a year, joint sims would occur where crews would sim together, but be in two different chat rooms with the mission coordinated by a sim master in each room. The Thanksgiving eve joint sim between the USS Vindicator and USS Endeavor became an annual tradition.
From its earliest days, Trek Online encouraged plots that allowed others to command the ship for a few weeks - using a vacation, disappearance, or incapacitation of the captain as an excuse to do so. Ships would sometimes change their configuration - the USS Generation famously transformed from a Defiant Class into an Intrepid Class vessel without explanation. Hosts could also reset their sims every few months; this is how the USS Indelphi became Frontier Station, which in turn became the USS Vengeance. These trends ultimately gave rise to a number of free-form sims within Trek Online, most notably the Taleweavers Guild, New Horizons, and the USS Adventure, where either the captain would change at the start of every mission without an overriding plot feature to explain it, or everything about the sim - the ship, the genre, the characters, and the commanding officer - changed with each mission.
In addition to sims, Trek Online offered a wide array of activities. The most popular was The Trekkenest Trek Trivia in all of Trekdom e-mail string, in which a member would ask a Star Trek trivia question, and whomever got it right would ask the next question. TOL also ran weekly chat-based Star Trek trivia sessions, which were heavily attended and served as a primary recruiting tool for the club. During most of its history, the club always ran one, and sometimes two, weekly Trek trivia chats. At various points, the club also ran weekly Star Trek chats. These died off after Star Trek Voyager left the air.
To foster a sense of community, the club held a series of special gatherings during the course of the year, including Election Day in January, during which the presidential election results would be announced live in a chat room, an anniversary party in September to celebrate the clubs founding, and an Apollo 8 Anniversary/Winter Solstice non-denominational holiday party in December. Random chat parties and events also routinely broke out during the course of the year whenever enough TOLers gathered together.
The clubs message boards were a center of activity. In addition to a club wide message board lounge, each sim ran a message board lounge. Club business, including assembly meetings, were held on the message boards, giving everyone in Trek Online a chance to discuss club policy. The liveliness of the clubs message boards resulted in Trek Online becoming one of the first clubs granted enhanced message boards by the Non Affiliated Gaming Forum, enabling Trek Online to create folders and sub-forums.
- Main article: The Culture of Trek Online
Over the years, Trek Online's overactive members developed an array of running gags and inside jokes that would be advanced during chat parties, on the clubs message boards, and in conservations among club members. This ultimately took on a life of its own, developing into a meta-sim focused on the imaginary city of Trekonlina.
The most famous staples of Trek Online's culture were the Men in Blue (MiBs), Smite Buttons, Smite Bots, Jelly Beans, Vats of Spam, Pudding, the Can of Unopenable Peanuts, and XO Plants.
- Also see: The Leadership of Trek Online
In the days before the widespread use of the Internet, Trek Online was one of the few clubs to have simultaneous operations on multiple online services. At various times, TOL could be found on America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe, in irc, and in multiplayer online gaming worlds, such as Star Trek Armada. However, the America Online division was the largest by far, and the one that most people identified with Trek Online.
During the 1990s, each division possessed its own director, but all were under the nominal supervision of Chas Hammer, the founder of Trek Online and president of the division on America Online. With the rise of the internet and the creation of the club's website, distinctions between divisions became a moot point, and in 2000, all the outlying sims and games came under the direct control of the President and Assembly that had originated on America Online.
Although technology forced boundaries between divisions during the 1990s, Trek Online followed a policy of keeping bureaucracy to a minimum. Within each division there existed no fleet or subfleets - all sim hosts reported directly to the division director. Hosts were given wide latitude over their crews and creative content, so long as they stayed within general guidelines (such as don't blow up your ship without permission from the division director, send out weekly logs and attendance reports, start the sim on time, stay within the probable bounds of canon, etc.). Members of Trek Online were free to join as many sims as they wished - indeed TOL was one of the first clubs to allow and encourage its members to take part in several sims.
To enhance the quality of sims within the club, Trek Online ran a simming academy that trained all new members, and fielded a Sim Support Division that developed graphics, sound files, and sim plots. There also existed an Activities Division that oversaw the club's chats and trivia sessions.
From the club's earliest days, sim hosts played an integral role in decision making - indeed there was hardly a major decision or change to the club's guidebook that was made without their input and approval. In 1998, on AOL, this came to be formalized into a simming republic, which ultimately became the government for the entire club in 2000. An Assembly consisting of sim hosts and elected members met at the clubs message board to debate policy and vote on important matters, and the President was directly elected by all club members, first to a one-year term, and then every six months.
Communication was a guiding policy of Trek Online. Sim hosts were mandated to, once a week, email ship logs to their crew members, and file an attendance report with their fellow sim hosts. To ensure uniform policies and rules, guidebooks were developed for simmers and sim hosts. In times of crises, Presidents of Trek Onilne made it a point to e-mail all members of the club, offering a full disclosure of the situation at hand, as a means of combating rumors.
Each month the club published its own newsletter, the Trek Online Times. In addition to club news, log reports, and a schedule of events, the TOL Times featured original stories and submissions written by club members, a calendar of Star Trek shows, conventions, and actors' birthdays, and a comedy section.
Trek Online was founded on the Classic Prodigy online service by Chas Hammer and Julie Ryse on August 31, 1996, after the sim club in which they had both been Vice Presidents - STECO - collapsed. Chas reconstituted his unaffiliated, free-for-all sim, the USS Orion, as a weekly chat sim, making it the first sim of Trek Online. Julie followed by launching her own ship, the USS Sierra.
At the same time, a new sim club was taking shape on America Online, the UFP/SF sim club (referred to interchangeably as the United Federation of Planets/Star Trek Forum Simulation Group, the United Federation of Planets/Star Trek Forum, and the United Federation of Planets/Starfleet). Earlier that summer a protest movement had taken shape to persuade America Online to create a new simming forum apart from SFOL and the NAGF; to boost their prospects, one of the protesters, Chip Rollins, was tasked by the protest leaders to start a new club, the UFP/SF. While the demands of the protesters were not met, Chip pressed ahead with organizing the UFP/SF, and on August 31, named Chas as the Vice President of the club.
Both Trek Online and the UPF/SF held their first sims in September 1996. Desiring to expand the UFP/SF beyond Star Trek simming, in November, Chip re-branded the club as the United Simulation Group (USG), with the UFP/SF becoming the Star Trek division of the USG; this distinction existed on paper only as the USG never fielded a non-Star Trek sim.
Shortly after the re-branding of the UFP/SF, the two sims of the Independence Group merged into the USG. Questions of how to integrate these sims, combined with open opposition to the merger among members of the Independence Group, generated friction within the USG, leading Chip to resign as President of the United Simulation Group on January 19, 1997, and leave Chas in command. Not wanting to run two clubs, Chas promptly merged the USG into Trek Online, making it the America Online division of TOL.
Following the merger of the USG and TOL, personality clashes between Chas and his initial Vice President, Kris 'Scott' Perry resulted in a period of public acrimony and political posturing known as the Trek Online Civil War. After the two reached a reconciliation at the end of January, Trek Online found itself besieged by opponents who remained upset that the Independence Group had merged into the USG or that the club had given up on the forum protest, and had to fend off attacks from the Federation Fan and Sim Club (FFSC), whose members actively raided and disrupted the sims of Trek Online.
During the chaos, Trek Online banded together with other clubs on America Online to form the Simming League. Although it was not until September that the FFSC and those disgruntled with Trek Online were pacified, by May, Trek Online internally had stabilized and entered a period of rapid growth. By the fall of 1997, Trek Online had grown to a hundred members and a dozen sims, leading the club to purposely cap its growth so that it could retain the feel of a small club while fielding a wide range of sims and activities.
In 1998, Trek Online held its first elections for President, which were won by Chas Hammer. Soon after, the club seated an assembly - comprised of the sim hosts and elected club members - and drafted a constitution, which made Trek Online one of the first simming republics. The republican system, combined with Trek Online's focus on communication and club wide events, gave members a deep sense of community. During this period, the club's sims and activities overflowed, Trek Online's culture reached its climax, and the club became a noted leader of the simming community on America Online.
Chas Hammer retired as the President of Trek Online in January 2000, and Robin Knight Mace was elected President. Although a capable sim host and diplomat, Robin soon felt overwhelmed by the Presidency, and Chas agreed to return to office in May. Trek Online continued to grow and prosper during the second presidency of Chas Hammer, although he became a detached administrator and did little to establish personal connections with the new generation of sim hosts taking shape within the club.
Chas again retired from the Presidency in November 2001, and SO'koth Vidiot qul'tuq (Vid) was elected President. Vid proved to be a capable leader and easily won reelection in April, 2002, but during his second term, he became increasingly busy in real life, and the club drifted due to the lack of a steady hand. Vid chose not to run for re-election in October, 2002, which saw Penny Boopter elected.
Decline and Fall
Tied to America Online, and unable to establish a successful internet presence, Trek Online starved for members and declined steadily under Penny. Inbreeding became a significant problem. Chas Hammer became increasingly critical of the state of affairs in Trek Online, and lobbied heavily to remove old hosts and players and institute reforms, but was opposed by those in danger of being cut and found he had few friends among the younger generation of active leaders within the club, and was unable to bring about meaningful change. Vid too became disillusioned with Penny's administration and attempted to take control of the club in April 2003. Despite his disagreements with Penny, Chas came to her defense during the mutiny, as she was the elected President of the club. Outraged, Vid and his supporters left Trek Online to form Rogue Fleet. The split robbed Trek Online of approximately half its remaining members. Disillusioned, Chas quit Trek Online in July, 2003.
In August 2003, Penny resigned as the President, making Matthew Joseph Dawn the new President. Matt, however, was unable to stop the decline, and he, too, resigned in December, paving the way for Penny to return. Back in command, Penny did little to rebuild the club. Realizing Trek Online was finished, and wishing it had been different, Chas and Vid returned to TOL to sim together with the surviving ships. In July 2004, Penny finally threw in the towel and turned the club over to Chas, who promptly shut down Trek Online.
- Main page: Trek Online Wall of Honor
Legacy and Analysis
During the heyday of Trek Online, the club was a leader of the simming community on America Online, and played an instrumental role in the formation of the Simming League. Trek Online embraced concepts that were radical at the time, but have since become common - allowing members to serve on more than one sim, holding presidential elections, utilizing an assembly of senior members to determine club policy, and running sims with no set host or canon background.
The club, however, failed to adapted to the most critical trend of its day. As people moved off America Online and onto the internet, Trek Online did not develop a significant web presence. Slowly, recruiting dried up, and membership declined. Inbreeding conspired to block meaningful reforms, and personality clashes between the three principal leaders of the club - Chas Hammer, SO'koth Vidiot qul'tuq, and Penny Boopter - brought about the final death-knell.