Hicom existed as a public access machine for people interested in the field of Human Computer Interaction to talk to one another; bought and sponsored by British Telecom, The BCS, The BPS, and Digital Equipment Corporation.
It ran conferencing systems and mail systems to facilitate this - remember, the "Information Superhighway" didn't exist when Hicom started. I took on systems management of Hicom in 1989, starting as security manager, then effectively, taking on the whole machine - This was quite a big job back then since we were one of the first JANET machines to go onto the Internet in 1990 and certainly the first public access one in the UK. Over the years it's made the news quite a lot, mostly through the nefarious visitors it attracted. Oddly, it has the dubious honour of being the only machine that Kevin Mitnick ever had a legal VMS account on - I think he lasted about 2 weeks on his promise of being good if we gave him it until he went back to using it illegally - Running public access machines should be a graduation exercise for paranoid security managers.
Over the ten years it ran at Loughborough, Hicom never crashed through a hardware fault - It did have to be bought down once because someone got a TK50 stuck in the tape unit, but that's it. It was also never changed from it's original specification and ran exactly the same architecture from the day it was turned on. I am not sure if this makes it the longest running publically accessible machine on the Net, but I figure it's in the top five if not number one.
The HICOM project also had one of the very first world-wide-web servers in the world, our business being testing ways of accessing information. I remember writing a mail saying it was a good idea, but it would never catch on due the power required in the client software... I still claim I was right ;)
Hicom is still around - It's in the office now still as it was before but without an X25 card (they are not a lot of use on a wholly ethernet LAN). It still has all the old user accounts, but all they tend to do now is forward mail to their original owners - Maybe one day, I'll go totally perverse and start giving new accounts on it, see if we can get 20 years out of it.
(This was written in June 2002 with some corrections made later.)