UnNews:Boston's SCVNGR, a web site with a difference

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31 August 2010

PDP-8

Each of SCVNGR's servers can get most of the way through 1 transaction per minute.

BOSTON, Massachusetts -- Web start-up SCVNGR, which will let Boston consumers earn points and discounts at fifty area businesses starting this week, is a web site with a difference.

You see, the server barn interacting with clients through their cell phones consists solely of PDP-8 computers from Digital Equipment Corporation, which reached their heyday in the 1970s. Reliance on the OS-8 operating system means that filenames can be no longer than six letters, which must be in capitals, explaining the unique spelling of the service.

Seth Priebatsch, the 21-year-old chief executive, says his start-up will be able to offer a better deal to consumers and businesses by avoiding software royalties to Microsoft, as everyone involved in the development of the PDP-8 is either dead or demented.

The PDP-8 will have no problem debiting accounts, says Mr. Priebatsch. "You just negate the accumulator and then add." Or you would, if you could code in Macro Assembler. Mr. Priebatsch is advertising for web programmers with the lost skill. More problematic is the fact that the machines' 12-bit arithmetic will limit customer balances to $40.95. "But we have several floating-point units on order," he says.

Bankrolled by Google Ventures, SCVNGR signed up the first 50 businesses for free, but will charge subsequent businesses $80 per month for access to the technology. Number 51 will be signing up any day, says Mr. Priebatsch, which is approximately the time that spare parts will arrive to repair the servers.

Does Mr. Priebatsch think consumers will mind abandoning the familiar, modern point-and-click interface in favor of the typewriter-style method of operating the PDP-8's? "NPRBLM."

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