Author Topic: Keyboard community history  (Read 793 times)

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Offline icrchi

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Keyboard community history
« on: Fri, 27 August 2021, 08:45:11 »
Recently, I have been wondering about the early days of the keyboard scene. I couldn't find anything online, except for a geekhack thread from 2013 (https://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=44030.0).

Does anyone know anything about how the scene started and some of the first custom boards?

I may get the info you send in this topic and compile it so that the community can know about its early days.
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Offline fohat.digs

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #1 on: Fri, 27 August 2021, 09:33:55 »
I am not sure how "the community" might be defined, but the r00tw0rm assault on Geekhack in 2011 made it hard to find and research what was happening here before that.
Over the past few decades there has been a redistribution of dignity upward. The Republicans valorized entrepreneurs, CEOs and Wall Street. The Democratic Party became dominated by people in the creative class, who attended competitive colleges, moved to affluent metro areas, married each other and ladled advantages onto their kids so they could leap even farther ahead. There was a bipartisan embrace of a culture of individualism, which opens up a lot of space for people with resources and social support but means loneliness and abandonment for people without. Four years of college became the definition of the good life, which left roughly two-thirds of the country out. And so came the crisis that Biden was elected to address the poisonous combination of elite insularity and vicious populist resentment. A group of people so enraged by a lack of respect that they are willing to risk death by Covid if they get to stick a middle finger in the air against those who they think look down on them. They are willing to torch our institutions because they are so resentful against the people who run them. The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward. They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty.  David Brooks NYT 2021

Offline _rubik

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #2 on: Fri, 27 August 2021, 11:48:07 »
It would be really interesting to put a timeline together. Maybe there's an opportunity to centralize this information.
ai03 Meridian Mech 27 E8.5 Brutal60 SSK White Label HHKB Pro JP vAEK68 Alps Blues RF87u

Offline Leslieann

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #3 on: Fri, 27 August 2021, 20:10:52 »
You won't find anything because people looking for nicer keyboards started long before the internet became mainstream.

I would imagine most of it started as soon as rubber domes began taking over effectively killing mechanical keyboards, which were the standard.
Companies still made mechanical keyboards but the market for them shrank to just a few companies. I credit Razer for reigniting the market by bringing the (horrible) Blackwidow to mainstream stores. It was killed after 2 years and they switched manufacturer and switched to clone switches from Cherry. The community laughed at them with some of their marketing and later clone switches but they weren't wrong as Cherry had issues and they pretty much set the stage for alternatives to Cherry.

As for customs, it primarily seems to have started in Korea, then we had the Phantom, and then the GH60. Being open source, the GH60 caused the a market to blow up as the Chinese took the info and ran with it (the same thing happened with 3d printers).
Novelkeys NK65AE w/62g Zilents/39g springs
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62g Zilents/lubed/Novelkeys 39g springs, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps, Netdot Gen10 magnetic cable, pic
| Filco MJ2 L.E. Vortex Case, Jailhouse Blues, heavily customized
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Vortex case squared up/blasted finish removed/custom feet/paint/winkey blockoff plate, HID Liberator, stainless steel universal plate, 3d printed adapters, Type C, Netdot Gen10 magnetic cable, foam sound dampened, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps (o-ringed), Cherry Jailhouse Blues w/lubed/clipped Cherry light springs, 40g actuation
| GMMK TKL
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w/ Kailh Purple Pros/lubed/Novelkeys 39g springs, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps, Netdot Gen10 Magnetic cable
| PF65 3d printed 65% w/LCD and hot swap
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Box Jades, Interchangeable trim, mini lcd, QMK, underglow, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps, O-rings, Netdot Gen10 magnetic cable, in progress link
| Magicforce 68
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MF68 pcb, Outemu Blues, in progress
| YMDK75 Jail Housed Gateron Blues
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J-spacers, YMDK Thick PBT, O-rings, SIP sockets
| KBT Race S L.E.
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Ergo Clears, custom WASD caps
| Das Pro
More
Costar model with browns
| GH60
More
Cherry Blacks, custom 3d printed case
| Logitech Illumininated | IBM Model M (x2)

Offline Findecanor

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #4 on: Sat, 28 August 2021, 06:22:14 »
When I registered here in 2010, the focus was mostly on vintage keyboards, especially clicky ones.
Filco and Cherry keyboards were also well represented here.

The Steelseries 6G was already in mainstream computer stores (at least where I lived), and iOne/Qtronix, Deck/TG3 and Das Keyboard were also on the scene.
In the summer of 2010, Razer posted an on-line poll asking for which Cherry switch to put into (what would become) the BlackWidow: Cherry MX Blue won, which I suspect largely can be attributed to the community on Geekhack at the time.

The 60% craze started with the Poker and the Pure, coming out of Chinese keyboard communities KBC and  KBTalKing respectively. Those had simple construction, compatible parts and lots of upgrade parts available.
The GH60 was only a PCB - a clone of those, but the group buy took a looong time to deliver, and before it had shipped, there were Chinese clones of it.
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Offline DALExSNAIL

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #5 on: Sat, 28 August 2021, 07:25:48 »
The GH60 was only a PCB - a clone of those, but the group buy took a looong time to deliver, and before it had shipped, there were Chinese clones of it.

It's still taking a long time, I assure you lmao.

I check it at least yearly, and without fail there are people still posting about not getting their orders yet, after 8 years.

Offline _rubik

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #6 on: Sat, 28 August 2021, 11:39:21 »
So I'm playing with the idea of a community sourced "hobby history". As other have pointed it out, it would never be comprehensive or complete but it could at least cover major milestones.

Of course, you're going to get some trolls / bad data if you open up a blank web form to the internet, so I'm thinking through a way for the community to "self moderate".

Maybe a naive voting system like reddit? Upvotes and downvotes. Only posts that meet certain benchmarks or criteria could get added to the timeline?

Or the wiki model where anyone can edit articles, but each account has a "reputation" associated with it.

Of course the wiki model could grow out of hand with the number of pages, so having a single timeline would be hard. But if the site had tags and sorting, so you could filter by "the timeline of Korean GBs" for example...

Just thoughts, but it might be a fun little curation, aggregation, and taxonomy project
ai03 Meridian Mech 27 E8.5 Brutal60 SSK White Label HHKB Pro JP vAEK68 Alps Blues RF87u

Offline Leslieann

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #7 on: Sat, 28 August 2021, 20:39:15 »
The 60% craze started with the Poker and the Pure, coming out of Chinese keyboard communities KBC and  KBTalKing respectively. Those had simple construction, compatible parts and lots of upgrade parts available.
The GH60 was only a PCB - a clone of those, but the group buy took a looong time to deliver, and before it had shipped, there were Chinese clones of it.

It may have been a clone but it was companies cloning the GH60, even the name, that ignited the 60% market and Chinese influx that followed.
Novelkeys NK65AE w/62g Zilents/39g springs
More
62g Zilents/lubed/Novelkeys 39g springs, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps, Netdot Gen10 magnetic cable, pic
| Filco MJ2 L.E. Vortex Case, Jailhouse Blues, heavily customized
More
Vortex case squared up/blasted finish removed/custom feet/paint/winkey blockoff plate, HID Liberator, stainless steel universal plate, 3d printed adapters, Type C, Netdot Gen10 magnetic cable, foam sound dampened, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps (o-ringed), Cherry Jailhouse Blues w/lubed/clipped Cherry light springs, 40g actuation
| GMMK TKL
More
w/ Kailh Purple Pros/lubed/Novelkeys 39g springs, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps, Netdot Gen10 Magnetic cable
| PF65 3d printed 65% w/LCD and hot swap
More
Box Jades, Interchangeable trim, mini lcd, QMK, underglow, HK Gaming Thick PBT caps, O-rings, Netdot Gen10 magnetic cable, in progress link
| Magicforce 68
More
MF68 pcb, Outemu Blues, in progress
| YMDK75 Jail Housed Gateron Blues
More
J-spacers, YMDK Thick PBT, O-rings, SIP sockets
| KBT Race S L.E.
More
Ergo Clears, custom WASD caps
| Das Pro
More
Costar model with browns
| GH60
More
Cherry Blacks, custom 3d printed case
| Logitech Illumininated | IBM Model M (x2)

Offline HungerMechanic

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #8 on: Sat, 28 August 2021, 22:02:30 »
I don't know what things were like before the records here.

But I found all sorts of interesting things while researching Ergo Clears. I was just reading information about them, but some very early posts about them showed up.

Back around 2012-2013 or so, when it was just Cherry MX Clear, Black, Red, and Brown [and anything other than Black was somewhat exotic], people were already trying to make Ergo Clears, despite the almost non-existence of custom spring options.

So people were making the first Ergo Clears using "Cherry light" springs from MX Brown and Red. 60 G. And actually measuring the real actuation and bottom-out weights of Cherry springs, which were different from listed.

There was actually debate over whether people should even lube. Many tried to avoid it. 205g0 and 3204 seemingly didn't exist, other abbreviations of older lubes were used. It wasn't a standard purchase.

Anyway, some of the very first GBs seemed to be to get custom springs, like Spirit.

In the meantime, people were also putting MX Clear springs in MX Blacks, to get 'ghost blacks.' [simulated tactility from the short/progressive MX Clear spring]. All sorts of variations just using the stock Cherry parts. Then you get things like 'Kirkle Clears' and other things that were new at the time.

Despite the relative ease of acquiring Cherry parts, many refused to pay $100+ for a 'board o' cherries.'

MX Clear might have been the 'standard' Cherry tactile at the time. People were starting to recommend MX Brown for everything, given its 'cross-trainer' nature. This was long before it became tiresome and a meme to call it a 'tactile for typing and gaming.' I think MX Brown won Deskthority's "Switch of the Year" ~2011.

So those were the times. A very crude age compared to now in Cherry switches, as MX Browns were the unironic, enthusiastic go-to recommendation for newcomers, people had to desolder boards to get MX Clears and use MX Brown springs to get Ergo Clears, people bothered putting MX Black springs in Clears, and you had to create a GB to get custom springs. You could create a 55 G Ergo Clear with no lube, and nobody would bat an eye.

Offline Hak Foo

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #9 on: Sun, 29 August 2021, 01:06:34 »
In the beginning, enthusiast keyboards in the US tended to be Model Ms and vintage/scavenged stuff (AT101W, Focus 2001, Northgate).  I came here looking for a USB->SDL cable for a bog-standard 1391401 in like 2009.

The market in Korea feels like it was a few years ahead for a while.  OTD and KBMania forums were really where you started to see the dawn of full-custom boards.  A lot of these had much more restrictive controllers or were PS/2 based, so you didn't have as much of a software ecosystem, but there was plenty of won being thrown at fancy pieces of milled aluminium.

People interested in HHKB/Topre or Filco products would order them from Japanese distributors-- as I recall some of the earliest dealers for the US market (Elite Keyboards, for example) stocked a lot of this stuff until the market was mature.  There were a few caches of other things-- weird boards like the Solidtek ASK-6600U (super-cheap Alps), some Qtronix boards (MX Blue but usually with compromise layouts/build quality), or vendors who'd have back-stock of stuff like Wang 724s (nice-build Alps), which would feed the market for a while.  Occasionally you'd see a small feeding frenzy on such things.

The Cherry platform was sort of rocky early on: for a long time, the de facto MX Blue board was the G80-3000LSCRC, which had odd legends and was seemingly available mostly from POS-centric dealers.  You'd see people buying various POS G80s for keycaps.  A Dolch 1800 was a huge prize because it was one of the rare sources for attractive keycaps.

Some of the more interesting early boards:

Early model G80-86410s ("Ricercar SPOS") which were built with MX Brown, while later production runs went rubber dome.  An early feeding frenzy when they sold for like $25.  By the time Cherry actually brought out a hobbyist product, they had been lapped by the rest of the industry.

The ABS M1.  They had the right concept-- use the Costar CST-104 style chassis (as used on the Filco and CoolerMaster boards of the day) and stock it in a mainstream dealer (Newegg).  They then proceeded to blow it up badly-- failing to meet NKRO expectations and building it with Black Alps (at that point, demand for tactile switches was far lower) so they flogged it progressively cheaper to unload it.

Soarer's Converter was a world-breaking innovation.  Suddenly there was a USB converter that was reliable and dirt-cheap, but his expansion to a full controller firmware was less of a paradigm shift.  It feels like TMK (and then QMK) were what really made full-custom PCBs a real thing.

The first major Group Buy was a very simple Signature Plastics run, with relatively limited options.  DCS profile, sort of Dolchish colour scheme, with legends sort of mix-and-match.  I recall it was something like $50 for a 104 ANSI set, which seemed a lot of money at the time.  It later got retconned as "Round One" in a chain of group buys that went to like Round 6 or 7 with growing ambition and scope here and on Deskthority.

When Ducky first came out, I ordered a 1008XM (Alpsalike) and a 1008 (MX Blue) from Taiwanese dealers.  The 1008XM was super-flimsy (the case stripped its screw holes in like one opening and you could bend the plate with one hand) and the 1008 I left with a co-worker as a parting gift.  I can recall getting 'Cream Cheese and Green' DCS keycaps for it, and that was about the point where group buys started to explode to the point where you wouldn't follow them all.

I seem to recall the Geekhack/Deskthority split being originally a bit of a US/EU thing-- the base is still much more European over there, but they've developed a much different culture there now.  GH is much more "new thing to buy" and DT is much more "old thing to study".
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Offline Findecanor

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #10 on: Sun, 29 August 2021, 06:57:19 »
The first major Group Buy was a very simple Signature Plastics run, with relatively limited options.  DCS profile, sort of Dolchish colour scheme, with legends sort of mix-and-match.  I recall it was something like $50 for a 104 ANSI set, which seemed a lot of money at the time.  It later got retconned as "Round One" in a chain of group buys that went to like Round 6 or 7 with growing ambition and scope here and on Deskthority.
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He also included Cherry MX switches in later runs. Before those you could basically get Cherry MX switches only by desoldering them from other boards.
Later, SP launched PimpMyKeyboard to sell the keycaps themselves, but it took a longer time before Cherry woke up.
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Offline Rafen

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #11 on: Sun, 29 August 2021, 13:31:24 »
I remember lurking on this site before creating an account in 2011. I created my account and shortly after the site had the dreaded r00tw0rm assault. The main switches to use back then were Cherry mx, Topre, and buckling spring. Weren't to many other "big" players in the game at that time. Elite Keyboards was my go to site where they sold Leopold, Filco, Topre, and had Clack keycaps. Back then Topre was ended game for most. On the budget side of things Cooler Master was selling the QFR TKL and was a board that was decently well built and you could spray paint the outer case very easily after disassembly. Cooler Master even had replacement top panels for the case so you could have multiple different colors.

The switch everyone was raving over was the Ergo Clears, never did try to make them. MX browns were the safe option every one recommended. Cherry Reds were like typing on "boobs". Don't remember many people being on the linear train back then. Only way to get different switches in board was to desolder current switch and swap them with ones either pulled from another board or ordered from one or two different sites.

TKL was the popular size at the time. Only thing smaller was the Poker and HHKB. Most cases were plastic as compared to the aluminum cases that seem standard today.

Group buys were starting to get big around that time. I only joined a couple and most of them were for GeekHack keycaps which were singles not complete sets. Don't remember a lot about the other keycap sets back then. I remember them being rather expensive compared to what I thought they should be. Clack Company was the main artisan cap company and most sold for $30 compared to some of the ones I've seen lately going for $150 in epoxy.

Custom cables were just starting out and they were nothing like they are today. No coils or aviator connectors, just straight braided covering over the cables. I remember getting the right angle connector on mine. As others have said most didn't want to pay more than $100 on a board. The QFR could be had for $75 for browns/ reds and $55 for blues on amazon every once in a while. Filco wrist rest were the holy grail/ gold standard back then.

I missed a lot when I stepped away from the hobby shortly after graduating from college. Sold most of my boards and only kept a single QFR that eventfully bit the dust. Fast word to now. I just built two custom boards and have been learning so much with all the new trends going on. Cherry seems to haven't taken a backseat to most other Mx switches. Everyone is lubing and filming switches, lubing stabs, and using hot swaps boards which would have saved me so much time back in the day.

Offline HungerMechanic

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Re: Keyboard community history
« Reply #12 on: Sun, 29 August 2021, 15:26:28 »
Yeah. Filco was the main recommendation in Cherry boards, and they have showed up in product photos for keycap sets for a long time ever since.

The other main recommendation was Das Keyboard. I think there's a perception that they have gone down in quality since 2012 or so. Now, the main go to recommendation in factory boards is Leopold, and sometimes Varmilo. Leopold is seen as providing about the same quality as Filco (some say better - but they have different characteristics) but costing less (i.e. Leopold best value for money).

The situation today would have blown their minds, at least as far as Cherry switch and custom parts availability. But Cherry mechanisms haven't improved much. There's even a huge difference in entry-level today compared to 2017, when you can now get a KBD67 Lite for $110 that blows away any Leopold/Varmilo/Filco IMHO.

The people from 2011 would be amazed at Cherry options, but saddened by the demise of all sorts of interesting tactiles and clickies in ALPS and the other mechanisms. Almost everything died (except EC) while Cherry exploded. (But new versions of old designs are being prototyped.)