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Old School BBS Communities

By Cloudscout in Culture
Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 08:19:40 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, thousands of college students experienced the concept of an Internet Culture... long before web browsers became standard household tools. Through BBSes, MUDs, Usenet and IRC, people from around the world were able to forge relationships through this electronic medium. Today the Web is all the rage and while IRC still attracts a number of people with newer clients, Usenet still clings onto life thanks to graphical interfaces and MUDs maintain an addiction-like hold on gamers around the world, what ever happened to BBSes?

I started using BBSes around 1984. Equipped with a Commodore 64 and a 300 baud modem, I started playing with single-line dialup BBSes. When I started using the Internet in 1989, I used it mainly as a tool. FTP, eMail and occasionally 'talk'. It wasn't until Spring 1994 that I discovered ISCA BBS (telnet bbs.isca.uiowa.edu). The Iowa Student Computing Association Bulletin Board System. A BBS community far larger than I had seen before. In those days, it wasn't abnormal to see 1200 users online at a time exchanging private "eXpress Messages", eMail and participating in various discussion forums ranging in topic from Childcare to the Kama Sutra.

Since the majority of ISCA BBS's users were college students who only had Internet access from school, graduation often meant a departure from the BBS community. As the Web gained in popularity, newer students failed find any attraction in a text-only activity and the population of ISCA BBS dwindled. There are still tens-of-thousands of active user accounts, however, it is rare to see more than 400 users online at a time these days.

ISCA BBS isn't the only text-based BBS still around today. A handful of others function with somewhat fewer users. (WARNING: shameless plug ahead) I run a bulletin board system called Atrium BBS (telnet atrium.innuendo.com) which has an active userbase of just over 400 users with 90+ users online during peak daytime usage. Other systems, including Tech BBS, Heinous BBS and Depths of Hell offer a more technical or localized community. For now, ISCA BBS remains the largest of the BBSes still around, with Atrium running a distant second.

The smaller systems tend to offer a more personal experience. After a short time, real world friendships develop. These users have logged an exceptional number of miles in both air travel and road-trips to visit eachother. They share more than just technical information and political/philisophical debate, they discuss their lives and offer eachother support. It's really quite remarkable. Many of these people began their BBS experience on ISCA BBS during their college days. Today, most of them are out of college but continue to log in from work or from home.

Despite those who continue to hang on, are the days numbered for this type of community? Is it possible that there could be a resurgence of interest in what many consider to be a limiting medium? Do any other K5 users participate in these, or other, BBSes?

If you would like to check out any of these systems, the links above should open a telent connection to them. There are, however, alternative ways of accessing these BBSes. With the exception of Heinous BBS, they may be accessed using BBS Client Software. For the security concious users, both Atrium BBS and Heinous BBS can be accessed via SSH using the username 'bbs' (example: 'ssh -l bbs atrium.innuendo.com').


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Related Links
o Atrium BBS
o Tech BBS
o Heinous BBS
o Depths of Hell
o BBS Client Software
o Also by Cloudscout

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Old School BBS Communities | 55 comments (50 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
Weblogs (3.90 / 10) (#1)
by Mendax Veritas on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 04:49:22 PM EST

I think of weblogs like Slashdot, Kuro5hin and Advogato as the new model of BBS's. I don't see that a telnet-based BBS has any advantages over this kind of web site, except perhaps the fact that the web is more vulnerable to utterly clueless dorks due to its superior ease of use. BBS's usually had email and sometimes instant messaging services built in, in addition to public forums, but weblogs don't need them; it's better to use normal internet email or ICQ/AIM/GAIM/YIM for those purposes.

Re: Weblogs (3.60 / 5) (#3)
by El Volio on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:00:17 PM EST

That's exactly the way I think of K5. I used to run a BBS back in high school, and I was involved in the BBS community ever since 6th grade. Weblogs like this, plus online games (to replace the old door games) are a modern-day version of the same thing.

BTW, I don't agree with the author that most BBS users were college students. Perhaps on that particular board, but from where I sat, it was an extremely diverse population, from kids to high schoolers to adults to a few senior citizens. Made for really interesting conversations. And I will be the first to admit that door games have lost some of their charm...

So, I say whole-heartedly:

BBS'es are dead!

Long live BBS'es!

[ Parent ]

Re: Weblogs (3.00 / 3) (#6)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:07:35 PM EST

Most Internet BBS users were college students. I should have made that clear. In fact, in those days most Internet users were college students. It was the nature of the Internet before mass-commercialization.

This isn't to say that there weren't other types of users. I certainly wan't a college student, but ISCA BBS had over 25,000 active users and the vast majority of them were college students.
[ Parent ]

Re: Weblogs (3.33 / 3) (#8)
by El Volio on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:20:38 PM EST

That's a good distinction; I'm curious, though, what the proportion between dialup and Internet BBS users was? And how similar were the communities?

[ Parent ]
Re: Weblogs (3.00 / 3) (#12)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:36:52 PM EST

Well, I was an active participant in local dialup BBSes from 1984 until 1994. The Internet BBSes I listed are all based on a variant of Citadel-style software. The culture of these BBSes is similar to the culture of dialup Citadels of ages past, but it's quite different than the RA, VBBS, WWIV, Fido and CNet BBSes.

I'm not quite sure how to describe it, though.
[ Parent ]

Re: Weblogs (2.33 / 3) (#16)
by El Volio on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:51:29 PM EST

Hmm... I didn't spend much time on Citadel BBS'es, more on the latter type you describe. What was the difference, more or less?

[ Parent ]
Citadel (3.33 / 3) (#18)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 06:07:17 PM EST

Actually, in the dialup days I didn't spend much time on Citadel BBSes either.

Most of the other BBSes are heirarchal in nature. You have a number of different menus and you select different areas of the BBS (File areas, Message Areas, Door Games, etc.). Citadel BBSes are usually centered around the message areas. While some of them support file transfers, the popular ones are strictly message-based.

On a Citadel BBS you are always in the message areas. The most frequently used key is the Spacebar. You press space to read new messages. Each forum (each topic has its own forum) contains up to 150 messages. As new messages are posted, the oldes message scrolls out. Once you've read all of the messages in a forum, hitting space again takes you to the next forum with new messages. You can join and unjoin (known as zapping and unzapping) different forums so you the spacebar will only make you read messages in the forums you have selected.

Have I made this confusing enough, yet?
[ Parent ]

Re: Citadel (4.50 / 2) (#31)
by k-lame on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:21:02 AM EST

Citadel and it's derivatives are 'room-oriented'. The data topology is subtly but significantly different from WWIV et al. Whereas, say, Wildcat! was designed to feature files and doors, most flavours of Citadel foreground the discussion areas.

Basically, a Citadel system is a collection of "rooms", forums that attempt to frame the topic of discussion, such as "dedications" for people to psuedo-dedicate songs to their friends, or "gvsb" for some good natured tag-team flaming, or "C64" for discourses on why the Commodore 64 is the coolest computer ever/why the Atari 400 is weak. (What can I say, '84 - '90 on primarily "social" boards.)

Maybe the best way to describe it is as a bastard child of LambdaMOO and an IRC server with really high lag times - you navagate the boards by "walking through the house", but within any particular room the discussions were (un)organized like a discussion on IRC. Your Milage, however, May Have Varied.

(Now I'm feeling all nostalgic. Time to put on a Depeche Mode album and wax prosaic about how cool "The Greenlake Connection" was. But I'll spare you)


"A man NEEDS his necessities"

E-mail hint: Hrmmm, I wonder what major portal/free e-mail provider "woohoo!" could REALLY be?
[ Parent ]

Re: [off topic] (1.25 / 4) (#13)
by paryl on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:41:16 PM EST

neat sig!

[ Parent ]

Re: [off topic] (1.25 / 4) (#15)
by El Volio on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:50:37 PM EST


[ Parent ]
Re: Weblogs (3.00 / 5) (#4)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:04:00 PM EST

The thing is, these weblogs don't offer the same 'intimacy' that BBSes provided. While K5 offers the closest thing to a tightly-knit community, the autonomy of each discussion within a given topic keeps things fragmented.

As for being 'better' to use IM systems and regular eMail, I don't know if that can be definitively said. It's a matter of preference and context, really.
[ Parent ]

Re: Weblogs (3.60 / 5) (#10)
by Mendax Veritas on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:28:29 PM EST

But that's just matter of how things happen to be organized here; it's not an essential aspect of the technology used, or a real difference of style. BBS's tend to organize around sections, just like K5, but unlike K5 you don't have to have a vote to raise a new topic; you just post it. That works fine on a scale of a few hundred active users, but at the level of K5 (or, worse, Slashdot), it overloads the users. That's why we have topic voting and comment scoring. So it's primarily just the sheer number of users that adversely affects this sense of a "small, tightly-knit community". Because it isn't a small community, it can't be tightly-knit, just as you can know all your neighbors in a little village, but not in a big city.

[ Parent ]
Re: Weblogs (2.50 / 2) (#14)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:42:36 PM EST

The thing is, BBSes tend to have more granular topics to avoid the confusion associated with the fact that anybody can post anything.

Instead of 9 generic topics, there are over 100... and they aren't as difficult to manage as one might think. Also, you needn't seek out new posts, the design of a Citadel-style system allows you to cycle through topics automatically as new content is posted.
[ Parent ]

Re: Weblogs (3.50 / 2) (#19)
by Mendax Veritas on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 06:15:14 PM EST

Okay, then if that's the kind of BBS you have in mind, isn't Usenet just one huge distributed BBS? Now there's a good demonstration of what happens when you can post anything you want, anytime, on a massively popular system. I prefer K5.

Really, when you get down to it, a sense of a tightly-knit community requires you to not have a massive number of users. I don't think there's any escaping that. How you organize topics, and who is allowed to create new ones, seems to me like a secondary issue, though certainly it does not help the sense of "community" for topics to be rigidly limited to "relevant" postings.

Interestingly, at Slashdot (yeah, sorry), the only real sense of community is found in the so-called "secret sids", i.e. topics created by users without management's approval, and never linked to the public section pages. In those places, you can say pretty much anything you want without fear of being modded down as "off-topic", and rather free-wheeling discussions sometimes develop between fairly small groups of people. And the sense of community between those people extends out into their discussions in the public topics; they know each other much better than most Slashdotters do. Perhaps these secret sids are closer to your vision of a BBS than the more organized public topics?

[ Parent ]

It's not like Usenet (2.50 / 2) (#21)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 06:30:31 PM EST

No, Usenet wouldn't be analagous. The BBSes I'm talking about also have a sort of instant messaging system called eXpress Messages. In addition, the store-and-forward nature of Usenet makes moderation nearly impossible... to say nothing about real-time communication. On a Citadel, new posts appear immediately for all users and each forum has a forum moderator who has the ability to keep things under control.
[ Parent ]
Re: It's not like Usenet (3.50 / 2) (#24)
by fluffy grue on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 08:40:56 PM EST

I wonder how many USEnet readers are always on IRC. Or ICQ, or AIM, or whatever.

IMO, you're just pontificating and posturing, showing how uber1337 you are by being an oldskool BBSer, and yet you are only talking in the context of Internet-accessible BBSes (not even the good old fashioned dialup BBSes seem to be fair game for your affection).

I don't see why a weblog with flat comment areas (and there are plenty of those) is any different, conceptually, to what you're getting so starry-eyed over. The only difference is a matter of accessibility, and on places like K5 you still need to be able to get an account before you can post. Yeah, it's a lot more accessible, but how is a link to a website any different than a link to a telnet:// URL?
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Dialups deserve affection (3.00 / 2) (#26)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 09:24:44 PM EST

I do, in fact, have a soft spot for the old dialup BBSes. The big difference is that the dialup BBSes that I remember so fondly from my youth were single-line systems (and later 2-line systems) which limited their abilities to really build a large community. Over the course of a day there might be 10 to 20 individual users on one of these BBSes, and often times these users would log on for the sole purpose of file transfers. Larger multi-line BBSes did exist, but they were almost always pay systems. It took the Internet to allow the large community to be born.

As for the difference between a link to a website vs a telnet connection, well... it's an entirely different concept in the flow of a session. Even if I were to use Lynx to navigate a flat-thread weblog, the experience wouldn't be the same as a text-based multi-user BBS.

I'm not criticizing K5 or any other site. If I didn't like them, I wouldn't be here participating. It's a different concept. Not better, not worse... just different.
[ Parent ]

Re: Dialups deserve affection (2.66 / 3) (#35)
by fluffy grue on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:56:23 AM EST

Awww, you sure know how to make a grue feel loved... ;)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Re: Weblogs (3.00 / 2) (#25)
by tzanger on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 09:11:13 PM EST

I have to agree with you that places like K5 and /. are what I have come to think of as modern-day BBSes.

It's been years now since I've been on my old haunts, namely Ice-Nine and New Gold Dream. There were a lot of friendships on those BBSes and despite K5 and /. "filling that gap" I don't feel the same sympatico as I did so many years ago.

Who knows, maybe small private newsgroups will be the next thing to try. Only with them, you're dealing with people you already know.

[ Parent ]
I miss those days (3.25 / 8) (#5)
by paryl on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:06:29 PM EST

The thing about BBS's is... what is there to keep you holding on?

I started BBSing in '89, and I loved it. Looking back, I tended to be more of a leach than anything, but that was partly because of the concentration of users in the area. You had chat, mail, games, and files. It was a cool thing, and I used to love finding out about new BBS's that had just popped up. My wife was a BBSer even before I was, and sometimes we have sentimental discussions about our BBS days.

But a text based BBS, while sentimentally attractive, is just old technology. The messaging has been replaced by weblogs. The mail has been replaced by pop3 accounts. The chat has been replaced by ICQ/AIM/IRC/etc. The files section has been replaced by any one of the enormous repositories that exist.

Also, for me at least, BBS's are too location-centric. I used them 'back in the day' because the internet really didn't exist, at least not in my neck o' the woods. Now that I can reach anywhere in the world, I have no desire to go back to those days.

Why hold on? (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:58:10 PM EST

Keep in mind, the BBSes that I'm talking about aren't the same dialup systems you're familiar with. These are Internet-based BBSes. Dialups were usually regional in nature (save for the store-and-forward networks like FIDOnet and WWIVnet). ISCA BBS and Atrium BBS have users all over the world.

Many people hold onto it because they have friends there. These people often interact with eachother in the 'real world' in addition to the online world. Although they are scattered geographically, they get together for parties or just to hang out.
[ Parent ]

text-based advantages... (4.00 / 9) (#7)
by CanSpice on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:15:06 PM EST

(Hi Cloudscout, it's Zaphod Beeblebrox from ISCA.)

There are a few advantages that text-based BBSes have over places like k5, /., and Ars' OpenForum. For one, they do seem more personal. It's a lot easier to get to know the other people on BBSes, simply because it's the same people day-in and day-out. The closest I've seen to that sort of thing is over on Ars' OpenForum. For two, they're more up-to-date. It's a lot easier to continue on a conversation on a text-based BBS than on places like /. and k5, simply because posts come more frequently, and it's easier to check for new posts.

And you're right, it is a remarkable community that forms around these places. I've never heard of SlashNics or k5Nics, but there seem to be a number of regional ISCANICs, and of course, the yearly one as well.

I don't see ISCABBS reaching the heights of a few years ago. The days of the queue are long past. Most new people to the Internet don't want to have to bother with telnet-based things, because it's something outside email and the Web. And moving BBSes to the Web isn't an answer either, because that territory's already taken up by discussion-based fora like k5. I see ISCABBS as slowly dying off after a few years. It'll never go completely away, but the attrition rate is too high for it to keep going strong.
--- I don't have a sig.
Re: text-based advantages... (4.00 / 4) (#11)
by domesticat on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 05:34:20 PM EST

Funny that the user CanSpice posted about this; he's a friend of mine that I wouldn't have had were it not for the type of community that formed from places like ISCABBS. (How else would a web designer in the southeast U.S. and a perl guy from western Canada become friends?)

Despite my affection for text-based BBSes, I agree they're legacy systems without much hope for a future. They're legacies from a time when the few people who had 'net access took the time to post substantively on a lot of topics that they cared about.

Those people are generally still online but they're in the minority - most people merely dabble in the web, but don't really contribute in the way that people did even four years ago. My experiences on ISCA were that people would log in and contribute, not just log in, skim, post nothing, and move on.

I think it's not just a change in technology; it's a change in the type of person that's using the 'net. The web opened up the internet to more casual users, and the result has been a broader range of topics but a decrease in depth.

(By the way, Cloudscout - I'm Chelsea A on iscabbs. Yo, ZB.)
[ boring .sig here ]
[ Parent ]
Re: text-based advantages... (3.66 / 3) (#20)
by Cloudscout on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 06:18:03 PM EST

(Hey, Zaphod... Hey, Chelsea...)

An advantage of the Citadel model for discussions is that it is single-threaded. While there are obvious benefits to the threaded model used here on K5 and on Slashdot, it fragments the conversations. Too many tangents can make things difficult to follow. Each model has its purpose. This topic, though, would probably be easier to follow on a Citadel BBS than here.
[ Parent ]

David's Amazing BBS ... (3.75 / 4) (#27)
by daviddennis on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 09:53:07 PM EST

existed between 1987 and 1991 as a five-line system running on a Microport Unix box run on a 286 system with an amazing 4MB of RAM and 72MB hard drive. I wrote the software and ran it as a warped combination of hobby and business - it had a $100 a monh phone bill, but I got about $ 100 a month in subscriptions.

What I miss about the traditional BBS is that back in those days, you had a geographically centered community, and you could actually meet people through it. Nowadays, the people who I wind up being interested in on the net seem to be folks from Canada, Florida, the UK, and so on. I almost never encounter anyone from my local geography. The result is that I'm isolated and lonely instead of vaguely social, which is undeniably an unfortunate development. Because my formative years were spent meeting people electronically, now that I'm more set in my ways, I simply have no idea what to do to get any kind of localized social circle.

In that regard, the decline of the BBS world was a definite turning point in my life, and certainly not a positive one.

The wonderful thing about the net, of course, is that if I post a question on Slashdot that's related in some way to the topic, someone will have the answer. So on a purely utilitarian basis, the net is far superior to any other BBS.

But the potential for parties where users could meet each other, and that for really getting to know people in a more intimate way, seems to have been lost, and I must say that's rather sad.

At the same time, almost all the remaining BBSs I see around are turning into ISPs, so I guess few people are that nostalgic for it - and I think that's a pity. Certainly I prefer the fluid ability to combine an instant message-like feature with messages and such was a much nicer environment than the current relatively static web.


amazing.com has amazing things.
Re: David's Amazing BBS ... (3.00 / 1) (#30)
by ocelot on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:10:43 AM EST

Geographically centered communities exist online. You just have to ignore the draw of interest-based groups and look for them :)

Any area that is large enough to support a thriving BBS industry is likely to have IRC channels, newsgroups, mailing lists, web-based discussion areas, etc. Even if your immediate area doesn't have much, there is undoubtedly something for your nearest large city, or your state/country/whatever.

I personally don't know what I would have done when I went to college had I not found the local IRC server. It saved me socially, and the majority of my friends around here are still people who I originally met through IRC.

That said, I do miss BBSs. I discovered them towards the end of their reign, and they did create a sense of community that the internet tends not to. Sure, I'm on the local IRC channel, and some local newsgroups and mailing lists, but it just isn't the same. There seems to be less of a diversity of interests - or at least less of a diversity of dicussion. Perhaps because the interest-based discussion has moved (understandably) to the interest-based groups.I don't know.

[ Parent ]

Something's missing (3.00 / 4) (#28)
by mebreathing on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 10:36:32 PM EST

Weblogs are fine and good, but there's something that's just not as...as...communal about them. They lack a certain personality that old-skool BBSs had. It could be a case of me romanticizing the past, but I think it's more than that.

The BBSs I used to frequent had elaborate ANSI art, usually created by the Sysop. Each menu was carefully crafted by hand, and gave a feel to the BBS. Web logs tend to have a fairly common interface. Sidebar down the (left|right), main menu across the top, content in the center. Functionality. Perhaps a graphic here and there. Something about the primitive constructs of ANSI art made them more expressive. Each letter of each menu, it's color, it's position, was thought about.

Dialup BBSs had another difference. They were local. Users were generally from a certain geographical location. It made the jump from ASCII to flesh a lot shorter. And knowing I was writing with people who were right down the street made it more personal.

ripterm (1.80 / 5) (#29)
by cvbear0 on Thu Oct 05, 2000 at 11:01:14 PM EST

I miss RIPTerm Graphics...

2400 bps (2.66 / 3) (#32)
by icer on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:34:10 AM EST

It's been a while now, but I first started dialing-out on a 386sx16, 4mb ram, and 20mb hard drive (Zeos laptop) with a 2400 baud/bps modem.

It wasn't long before I ran my own bbs, running Spitfire 3.x, on DOS (Does anyone remember Spitfire?!), using DesQview for multitaking (and Qemm for memory management). Small, simple, 1-line bbs with a very small user base (like 120 people), but it was fun. We didnt do anything too elaborate, but we were on Fidonet for message board sharing, and had all the popular door games (Tradewars, Ledgend of the Red Dragon, Barell Realms Elite, and the ever popular Food Fight).

If there's one thing I miss about comptuers, it's the BBS days. Weblogs are great. Especially Kuro5hin, but for all of the technical improvments that HTML/xML/etc provide over simple ANSi, and RipScript, there's just something missing. IRC is great. UseNet is still marginally useful, online war strategy games just rock. But it was fun cheating at food fight, and it was fun running a bbs.

I guess it's time to stop rambling. Anyone ever heard of Utopia BBS, or Symposium BBS in the Cincinnati, Ohio area? How bout the Chicken Coop?

Whoda thunk back in the BBS days, running 2400 modems, that in less than a decade, we'd have 1.5mbps DSL links in our homes? Isn't technology cool!?

Fidonet. (2.80 / 5) (#33)
by Zer0 on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:50:05 AM EST

The BBS days were great indeed. I'm sure many of you must remember playing games such as LORD, BRE, Falcons Eye etc. Then came the Inter-BBS leagues, transferring the game packets via the fidonet mail system. This created some interesting strategies and tactics in games like BRE and Falcons Eye. Send out an attack and it could take about 8 weeks for it to get there and back since the BBS you decided to attack just happened to be in canada (i'm in australia incase anyones wondering). Huge alliences were forged between BBSs and even generals appointed to co-ordinate massive attacks.

Without fidonet and the other mail networks none of that might of ever happened. I ran a BBS called The Vortex running software called Remoteaccess, i had a user base of about 300 and only 1 node. It took me months to convince my parents to get me a phone line, and then i had to give up my allowance to pay for it. But running my board was well worth it! =)

Those were the days..


TradeWars 2002 (none / 0) (#34)
by Cloudscout on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:53:30 AM EST

A couple months ago, someone sent me the address for a server that lets you play TradeWars 2002 via telnet. Talk about a blast from the past... I wish I could remember the address.
[ Parent ]
Pirates, FidoNet and the pace of change. (2.66 / 3) (#36)
by Sunir on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 01:33:45 AM EST

Bulletin boards are still favoured amongst pirates and other "underground" groups as they are less traceable. Ignoring that black mark, you can still find thousands of systems through the Fidonet nodelist (470kb).

But, as others have noted, they have turned to the Internet as their feeds. Compare having 100 simultaneous users to having 100 users fighting for one Plain Old Telephone Service line. It's a different feeling.

Not necessarily bad. Just different.

I miss my FidoNet node.

"Look! You're free! Go, and be free!" and everyone hated it for that. --r

Locally-based Old-School BBS's.. and IRC???!... (4.00 / 4) (#37)
by Primis on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 02:37:30 AM EST

For those curious, if you live in or near a large enough city, old-school dial-in BBS's *are* still around, complete with locally-centered userbases and such.

I spent a year living in Charlotte, NC a little while back, and was ecstatic to find two or three active BBS's with truly active userbases. So they're still out there. And technology and nostalgia aside, you still DO get something intangible from them you don't get from an online community...

But lets' face it -- IRC is the new BBS. I know a LOT of people who migrated to IRC online with the demise of BBSing, and in many cases local ties are still there with quite a few IRC channels. One of the nifty things about IRC is that you can have a channel be something pertaining locally (in terms of your geographic area), and yet still invite a few worthy outsiders into your channel/circle without having to put up with others whom you don't want there and shouldn't be there. Web-boards and forums don't provide that option.

Warezing, pr0n, etc aside, IRC's just versatile enough and can change itself to fit the times that it's probably not going away any time soon...

-- Primis.

Primis inter pares.

Net communities (4.00 / 2) (#38)
by Beorn on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 05:50:58 AM EST

Despite those who continue to hang on, are the days numbered for this type of community? Is it possible that there could be a resurgence of interest in what many consider to be a limiting medium?

You're absolutely right that small BBS's offered a very personal experience. This was because of the relatively high treshold for membership: you had to own a modem, and you had to look up a number in a list, dial it, and download messages. This made a clearly visible social border which doesn't exist on for instance Usenet, and made it easy for communities to form. New members came one by one, and the number of phone lines set a limit to the number of active users, so BBS's rarely got too large and unpersonal.

IRC resembles BBS's in one way: The high number of IRC channels with strange names creates a treshold almost as large as the one that surrounded BBS's, so that small, personal IRC communities form quickly.

But IRC is too spontaneous for serious discussions, which BBS's encouraged. Usenet is BBS's without the treshold: huge, impersonal communities without clear boundaries.

Web boards are lightweight versions of the BBS conferences. The treshold is often high enough to create personal communities, but the limited technology discourages the deep, long-lived debates of BBS's and Usenet.

I've found everything I liked with BBS's on the internet, but never all in one place. This doesn't mean BBS's are dead, however. There are no technical reasons for why BBS principles can't be applied to current technology. Somebody just have to do it.

- Beorn

[ Threepwood '01 ]

BBSs died. (3.00 / 3) (#39)
by Requiem on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 10:31:45 AM EST

Or, at least, they did where I live. I stopped calling BBSs two years ago, when one of the last ones in my area, as well as a personal favourite, went down.

But the friendships you make via BBSs don't have to die: while I've lost contact with 99% of the regulars in the Saskatoon BBS scene, I still talk with a couple occasionally, and one pretty regularly. ICQ helps this immensely.

That said, I think that web boards don't really have anything on some of the good messaging systems built into various BBS softwares (I was always a huge fan of Iniquity and WWIV, and I never really liked Maximus or Renegade). It's probably the lag time of the web as you wait for web pages to load - loading on BBSs was quite fast, even with a 2400bps modem (which is what I started with); a BBS at 33.6kbps, which was the fastest I saw since my BBSing computer had a 33.6, screamed.

They were these beautifully - and not so beautifully - integreated units: you had messages, games, files, and God knows what else. I miss that, and I very much miss the local feel of it all.

Just another nostalgic BBSer,

RE: Tradewars via telnet BBS (3.00 / 3) (#40)
by tailchaser on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 10:48:51 AM EST

"A couple months ago, someone sent me the address for a server that lets you play TradeWars 2002 via telnet."...

The UserFriendly BBS had Tradewars running. I haven't been there in a while to check (and telnet is nixed here at work), but I'd assume that it's still up and running. The link should be fairly easy to find from the UF website.

Having started BBSing in 1990, I suppose I'm not technically old-skool, but I sure do miss it. => I grew up in northern NJ which, I've been told, had one of the largest concentration of BBSs-per-square-mile in the country. I guess I was just spoiled. ;p

Phone lines (3.00 / 4) (#41)
by jabber on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 11:55:04 AM EST

That, more than anything, got me off of BBSes. The busy signals, the lack of availability...
When I bring up K5, it's there. If it isn't, it's a problem. With a BBS, I got a busy signal most of the time, since the guys that ran them could only afford a single line to the box. The only places that could afford more were the likes of The Well and such, and they passed the cost on to the callers/users through subscriptions.

That evolved into big dial-up houses like Compuserve, Prodigy and eventually AOL; and when these started to piggy-back on the Internet, the idea of dialing-up to their system died. Now, people dial-up to an ISP whose sole reason for being is to be a pass-through to the net - the cost they charge is explicitly for more MODEMS (yeah there's still plenty of those)

The 'spirit' of the BBS lives on, in places like K5, and smaller, more focused web-logs.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Well sure.. (3.00 / 3) (#42)
by slycer on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 12:40:26 PM EST

BBS's are dead.
But, you can still find relatively close knit communities that don't have flashy graphics (other than ANSI), have instant messaging, have boards to discuss topics more indepth, provide email services, and play games all at the same time.

They're called MUDS

Some of these are no more than social things, others are hack and slash/roleplay/sci-fi games etc etc.. but of the few that I frequent, all are relatively close knit communities. Everyone knows your name type thing. Most of the relationships that I have forged at MUDS have continued to become email/icq/irc friendships.

I do sometimes pine for the "good-old days of BBS'ing" but IMHO MUDS come pretty close.

Not quite dead yet. (none / 0) (#46)
by Cloudscout on Sat Oct 07, 2000 at 11:59:02 AM EST

I don't know that this logic holds up. While I haven't been on a MUD myself in quite a long time, unless things have changed significantly, I don't recall seeing MUDs with over 100 users on at a time.

While BBS participation is dwindling, it certainly isn't dead. Weekends are typically slow for BBSes yet Atrium has over 40 users online right now and there are over 100 users on ISCA at this moment. During the week those numbers are closer to 100 for Atrium and 400 for ISCA. Other BBSes like Tech BBS and Heinous see 30 users loads during the week.

While the days of 1200+ users online at once are probably gone, the BBSes are far from dead... yet. In fact, Atrium sees growth from week to week these days. How long that trend will continue before its eventual decline is another question.
[ Parent ]

Usenet is the right tool for the job (4.00 / 3) (#43)
by parry on Fri Oct 06, 2000 at 04:53:07 PM EST

>Usenet still clings onto life thanks to graphical interfaces

Wrong, Usenet survives because it's the best way of holding asynchronous discussions.
People who use deja etc as an interface to usenet are giving themselves a hard time
and should get a decent newsreader.
Using the web for such a purpose, eg. this forum and slashdot, is like employing your
dog as a biped. I post a dozen or more messages to usenet daily, but only once every month or two to forums like this. The reason? It's a complete pain in the arse to post messages via the web. It also means paying a ransom to the phone company if you
don't have unmetered calls in your country. With Usenet I can download a thousand messages in a minute or two and reply offline at my leisure. I can also have extended
discussions that in some cases have gone on for two or three months, whereas the
likelihood of a web forum discussion being even locatablle after more than 48 hours are
slim to none. It's ephemera. Usenet is the real thing.

Waffle, PCBoard, 4DOS and DESQview/X (3.00 / 1) (#44)
by KindBud on Sat Oct 07, 2000 at 08:02:47 AM EST

Wow, it's been a long time since I thought of BBSing.

I used to run a two-node BBS, one of the first in LA to offer Usenet and Internet email. One node ran Waffle BBS, the other ran PCBoard. This was around 1990-92. Waffle handled the UUCP news and email feed, and a 4DOS batch script translated Waffle's UUCP format to one that a UUCP plugin for PCBoard (uuPCB) could understand. I had a dedicated line with a Telebit Trailblazer dialing up to Cerritos Community College to pull the UUCP feed, at 9600 baud! Woo-hoo! Near the end of its days, I took in ONE GIGABYTE of news on a single month! Wow! I was so proud. ;) I was working for Quarterdeck at the time, so naturally, the rig ran under DESQview, and later, DESQview/X.

I discovered a couple years ago, that a mailing list I operated with someone I had met over the 'net, was archived at www.textfiles.com. The Art Of Technology Digest is credited at that site with being one of the first forums to post announcements about a new OS from some guy in Finland named Linus Torvalds.

Textfiles.com also has a ton of old BBS lists, phreaking and phracking stuff, you-name-it. Worth checking out.

just roll a fatty

I for one still use BBS's (1.50 / 2) (#45)
by OscarIommi on Sat Oct 07, 2000 at 10:01:27 AM EST

I'm a regular visitor on an BBS in UmeŚ (here in Sweden), I don't call it directly with the modem as I used to do in the old days, you can just telnet it now.. It's even run on an old Amiga 2000!! Though they're porting the BBS software to Linux at the moment so it might be just a litlle more stable ;) (Nothing bad meant about the Amiga, but the BBS _does_ crash a few tmies a year...) I find the community feeling on the BBS to be of higher quality than that on certain usenet groups and websites... Back in the BBS 'glory' days, it was all about leeching though (in my village and nearby (around ÷rebro) that is) which is a bit said...

Anyone use KISS BBS software? (2.00 / 2) (#47)
by skim123 on Sat Oct 07, 2000 at 05:39:30 PM EST

Just curious, I was into the BBS thing when I was a junior in highschool, and looked at the various BBS software packages. One was KISS BBS (coded by a guy named Rob Zee) that I installed and played with... it was kinda neat, I guess.

Anyway, about two years later, when I was in college and had not used a BBS for a loooooooooong time, I actually happened to meet Rob Zee, he was running a software-writing company in my college town... A very interesting guy. So... if you've used KISS BBS or know Rob Zee, let me know!

Money is in some respects like fire; it is a very excellent servant but a terrible master.
PT Barnum

It ain't dead yet. (4.33 / 3) (#49)
by nevauene on Sat Oct 07, 2000 at 10:34:37 PM EST

Despite those who continue to hang on, are the days numbered for this type of community? Is it possible that there could be a resurgence of interest in what many consider to be a limiting medium? Do any other K5 users participate in these, or other, BBSes?

Well, as one of those who has 'continued to hang on', I would have to say no, the days are not numbered. I actually find it kind of aggravating that every story I see about BBSes on web forums inevitable takes the same tired perspective - "is it dead yet?".. come on.. have some imagination. I was going to write a story about BBSes for k5 with a more unusual optimistic perspective, a "BBS primer" of sorts for anyone interested in getting into oldskool bbsing, either again, or for the first time. I probably still will.

BBSes are not just a curiousity, some old archaic relic of days past. Some BBS software is still in active development (mystic and renegade to name but two, there's also apparently alot of people working on their own larval linux bbs projects now too). Most areacodes are stone dead for dialup BBSes (as my own 519 is -- shoutouts to any oldskool 519ers reading this), but there are plenty of BBSes sitting on ye olde telnet port nowadays.

A BBS is a hidden corner of the internet, where small communities form. Discussions tend to be more whimsical and lightweight than the sometimes a-wee-bit-too-serious idealogical steel cage matches that occur on web forums. One of the major strengths of the BBS was that the geographic locations and areacodes that bound the people behind the handles together created a very personal and engaging atmosphere that you just don't get on "bigger and better" things like the web. Everyone who is, or has been, a bbs fiend, knows exactly what i'm talking about - there is something seriously missing in all the other means of creating forums and communities on the internet today besides the old ASCII / ANSI gfx bbs. The geographic isolation, which was actually a good thing in the case of bbses, ceases to exist on most modern day telnet bbses. However, boards generally try to fill a niche, whether aesthetic or topical, and they still continue to magically bring like-minded groups of people together.

Contrary to what people incessantly repeat like sheep every time this is a story on a web forum, the bbs is far from dead. Actually, the darkest days of the bbs scene were undoubtedly last year at this time. Things had truly never been so bleak and inactive. Now, a year later, there is *definately* a resurgence occuring. Alot of bbses are becoming *really* active again, and alot more are popping up. More people are diving in, and more people are returning to their bbs roots too.

All I can say is that after summer/fall of 99, I am convinced the bbs will never die. It would have died then if it was ever going to. But it lives on.

Right now the bbs scene is tentatively on the upswing, but it's still on shaky foundations. We do need new blood. If you have an actual attention span, aren't afraid of the console, and your ego isn't miles high, you are always welcome to join us. I will submit my 'bbs primer' story to k5 soon, for the benefit of all of you who may need a little help, or some insight into what exactly does constitute the bbs 'scene'. A bbs is not just an oldskool version of the weblog. A bbs is not about commentary and debate so much as it is about just simple self-expression and communication for it's own sake.

For the time being, I'd recommend inso.darktech.org. A nice minimalistic color ascii board with good message flow. Running on mystic/linux.And yes you can play the old door games like LORD and TW there too ;)

Also, I'm surprised nobody has mentioned it yet, but there are quite alot of bbses, some really great and some really shite, under the .darktech.org domain. Have a look around... one bbs leads to another leads to another.. and eventually you're going to find one you feel right at home on.

There is no K5 Cabal.
Talk about wierd (1.00 / 1) (#50)
by mr.8 on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 09:02:09 AM EST

I just posted an article on kuro5hin about the old BBSs. I have dedicated a website to the 'art' its at www.moldsandwich.com

BBSes ain't dead. (2.00 / 1) (#51)
by FFFish on Mon Oct 09, 2000 at 05:25:25 PM EST

Just go to Uncensored BBS. http://uncensored.citadel.org/

Thriving community. Discussion-centred and fiercely so. And it's just one of the Internet Citadel systems; there are scads of dialup-only Citadels that are loosely networked 'cross the nations.

Anyone here at Kuro5hin an old-school Citadel user? -- talkin' here about users dating back to mid-to-late eighties period.

Speaking of BBS's - Are there still Storyboards? (none / 0) (#52)
by Karmakaze on Tue Oct 10, 2000 at 03:58:56 PM EST

I think what I miss most from my BBSing days are the storyboards. Some friends and I kludged together a resurrection of our old storyboard using (of all horrible things) Geocities' guestbook function. We even had a spinoff for a while. Sadly, (as storyboards did, even in their heyday) it eventually suffocated to death.

Are there still BBS style storyboards out there? Has that storytelling style all moved to IRC and MUSH clients?

How would someone go about starting a new one these days?

Life influence (none / 0) (#53)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 02:48:46 PM EST

My BBS days have seriously influenced my life, even lately, when all BBSs in this region have died. *sob*. I spent a few years in the early '90s socializing on BBSs, meeting quite a few people, but I almost never encountered them in 'meatspace'.

But now, I'm bumping into people that I'd only known as (say) SoulSuckingJerk beforehand. Lately I have been going retro (I login to a shell now, not a ppp link when I dial up) and I've been taking a look at some BBSs connected to the net. It's funny how it's all coming back at me.

Personally, I'd like to see dialup BBSs flourish, but where I live that just can't work. I'm familiar with the behaviour of modems, of most of the quirkiness of DOS and other insane things because of my BBS days. It's amazing how a desire to play LoD and a need to goof off semi-publicly can teach you a lot about technology. It was a very important time in my life.

farq will not be coming back
Life influence (none / 0) (#54)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 02:48:59 PM EST

My BBS days have seriously influenced my life, even lately, when all BBSs in this region have died. *sob*. I spent a few years in the early '90s socializing on BBSs, meeting quite a few people, but I almost never encountered them in 'meatspace'.

But now, I'm bumping into people that I'd only known as (say) SoulSuckingJerk beforehand. Lately I have been going retro (I login to a shell now, not a ppp link when I dial up) and I've been taking a look at some BBSs connected to the net. It's funny how it's all coming back at me.

Personally, I'd like to see dialup BBSs flourish, but where I live that just can't work. I'm familiar with the behaviour of modems, of most of the quirkiness of DOS and other insane things because of my BBS days. It's amazing how a desire to play LoD and a need to goof off semi-publicly can teach you a lot about technology. It was a very important time in my life.

farq will not be coming back
gwars (1.00 / 1) (#55)
by depsypher on Fri Oct 13, 2000 at 12:50:19 AM EST

does anyone remember a text based strategy/resource manegement game called galacticwars (aka gwars)? I remember watching the text get written to the screen on my 300 baud modem/c64 and praying that my planet didn't get taken over or *gasp* get siezed by scumbucket jones, the repo man of the galaxy. I'm curious if there's any games going on these days... I'd love to get in on one for nostalgia's sake.

Old School BBS Communities | 55 comments (50 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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