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Help Save the History of the BBS

By sketch in Culture
Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 12:18:56 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

My name is Jason Scott of textfiles.com, and I'm working on a documentary about "The BBS". This is kind of like doing a documentary about "The Car" or "Europe", but that doesn't mean it's impossible. I want it to be as accurate as possible and not leave anyone out, and that's where I come to you all.

Some of you might know about my textfiles.com site, which has collected over 30,000 BBS-era textfiles. Some others might know about the BBS List I'm building in an attempt to collect all the BBS names and numbers there ever were. (At 85,000 and climbing).

Well, I decided that the next logical step was to try and capture the story of the BBS on film, interviewing and finding people who were a part of the experience. I'm going to be interviewing anyone and everyone who was a part of the BBS culture, from users to software writers to those who were affected by BBSes without being directly on them.

I'd like to ask people to come help me with my research by looking at the timeline and the BBS Software List on the site. I need ideas, corrections, and warnings, and I know you're just the sort of folks to help. Thank you in advance.


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


Related Links
o textfiles. com
o documentar y
o BBS List
o timeline
o BBS Software List
o Also by sketch

Display: Sort:
Help Save the History of the BBS | 43 comments (43 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Use Dejanews (Google) (5.00 / 1) (#1)
by jbridges on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 03:44:32 AM EST

For instance try searching for:

pcboard out of business

Plenty of detail on the sad demise of Clark Development.


Same with just about any other BBS software (MajorBBS, Wildcat, Searchlight and so on). Search Dejanews (Google).

But this only gets you the tail end of the history of BBS software. The valuable resource (which you will find nearly impossible to find) are the messages and text from all those long gone BBS machines.

BBS (none / 0) (#37)
by ChiefHoser on Tue Aug 14, 2001 at 08:59:11 AM EST

I remember the days growing up where my friends and I would stay up all night just to be the first ones on the BBS and get our turn first. In my area there was just one BBS (maybe two) and there were a fair number of people on it. This was my first experience on a 'remote' community. Recently a friend of mine has set up a BBS just for old times sake. It has brought back a lot of memories. I think everybody should have the experience of a BBS. In my mind almost nothing on the net today comes close to the BBS community that I grew up with.

Chief of the Hosers
[ Parent ]
Interesting project.. (none / 0) (#2)
by driph on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 08:29:04 AM EST

This gives me an excuse to dig the Atari out of storage. If the disks are still in decent shape, I should have quite a bit of BBS software, board logs and local numbers, etc saved up from the Vegas area BBS's... I'll try to do that sometime next week and see if I can find anything interesting for your archive...

Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
Interesting project.. (none / 0) (#20)
by ncc74656 on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 10:35:02 PM EST

FWIW, the list for 702 looks fairly complete, at least as far as '90s BBSes go. Lots of boards I used to call (Apples Only, We The People), boards I'd heard of (Reservations Only, Genesplicers, and others), and more that don't ring a bell. The list also has my own board (the Skunk Works) in it as well as some additional info I sent in on it a while back. :-)

[ Parent ]
Client software? (none / 0) (#3)
by Anonymous 7324 on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 09:59:55 AM EST

The software for the BBS "servers" was indeed sophisticated, and very featureful. The ones that I remember as being the most prevalent were MajorBBS and Renegade (mainly because it was free).

But what about clients? I know that I've used a few in my day. My normal client of choice was QModem, but then I discovered Ripterm, arguably one of *the* coolest clients ever.

This thing didn't just do ANSI graphics through codes (not that those didn't kick ass -- some were absolutely amazing!) but rather went to a full graphical interface, and let the board decide how it wanted to present itself to a user's screen.

By sending RipCode, the board gave you buttons, full panels, graphics that could be loaded in as logos, radio buttons, the whole shebang. As I remember it, on the few sites that supported RipTerm in my area, the interface was a huge step up from just "Hit F for files." To me, it blended the intimacy of the BBSes with the ease-of-use of the modern web.

Renegade? (4.00 / 1) (#15)
by tzanger on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 07:19:14 PM EST

Think back further to Telegard and WWIV. That's where BBSing's real ancenstry lay (there was also Maximus, WorldGroup and that shitty RIP-based system which actually foreshadowed the coming of the Internet, but IMO they didn't hold the same kind of "community" as Telegard brought out.)

IIRC, WWIV was just slightly before my BBS time: when I hit the scene everyone was running Telegard 2.5something (I know for sure it was at 2.5i but not sure if I came in at 2.5g or before ). WWIV allowed you to pay for the source under condition that you didn't screw him with it. I guess that the makers of Telegard did. :-)

Also IIRC, WWIV was written in C, but Telegard was done in Pascal. Renegade was cloned from Telegard but done in C. IMO, Renegade was always the "lame-ass clone of TG" :-)

Hell I still remember the rainbow-coloured "waiting for caller" screen in TG. I remember tweaking with DesqView so I could still do other things with the BBS running in the background. I remember painstakingly configuring the message boards and file areas. Tweaking colour combinations and animation macros. Creating "high speed" (9600+) and "low speed" (2400) menus, in both colour and monochrome. I also remember trying my hand at ANSI (not just ASCII) art -- google turns up a few good repositories but aside from the ASCII art we have reverted to now for the warez pups, it's all but dead.). I believe there was a company called TheSoft which created an ANSI art/animation program called TheDraw. It's this total configurability that I offer as an explanation to why I consider Telegard the granddaddy of BBSing and not some of the more "generalized" software packages.

When I did all of this I didn't have a separate phone line and I had no real users, but the thrill of running a server was incredible. It's something I've not forgotten even today where I have my own web and mail servers.

<floaty dream sequence> Later on I wrote two RG utilities: FileMan and MsgMan. Both ran through their respective areas (file and messages) and modified the user's FP based on what they'd done. FileMan was a little more powerful: It had a cron-like feature where you could modify the file directories based on date and time. Hence, on one of the last board I frequented (New Gold Dream BBS) the Ops had launched the super-popular Triple Point Tuesdays and Free File Fridays. :-)

The absolute best BBS I was ever on though was Ice-9. (519) 888-0085. That number is still in my head after so many years. So many years of busies, 2400 baud connects and endless hours in the message boards flaming <<<< #1 THE ENFORCER #1 >>>> and waiting all night for the latest texts and programs came down from the file areas. Helix McFadden was the SysOp and Straw Man, Sl (insert ae symbol here) sh and me (tzanger) were co-ops. Helix ran the leetest board there was, when l33t speak was just starting. Ice-9 was the shit; we were leet and we knew it. Near the end it went private because there were just too many lamers getting in and ruining it, much the same as the trolls on slashdot.

BBSes definately shaped my future. My "place" in BBSing usually rested in the message boards for coding help (giving and taking) and in cracking the registration codes for the door programs so everyone else could play whatever OLGs were popular at the time. :-) Various blogs have filled the gaps since but there is just something more communal about having a geographically-close bunch of people that the Internet is going to have trouble replacing.

When Ice-9 closed its doors, New Gold Dream (579 something IIRC, the eventually got another line and perhaps a third) became my new haven. Papa Bear Zalapski, Lightning and the sysop (I can't remember his alias now, damnit) ran a BBS so vastly different from Ice-9 it was scary in comparison. Family/community oriented, friendly and "warm", it quickly became the most popular BBS in the Kitchener/Waterloo (Ontario) region. Ice-9 was l33t, opinionated and "cold", but it had things that nobody else offered and its crew and members were the warlords of the BBS world. (Kind of lame in hindsight but when you're 12 it's awesome)

Why am I writing all of this? Memories. Flooding my brain right now. BBSes are something I will always miss deeply for the community, and never regret leaving because of the single (or very few multi-) user capability, slow speeds and single-tasking environment.

[ Parent ]
Telegard original dev team (none / 0) (#38)
by tcraddoc on Tue Aug 14, 2001 at 10:47:47 AM EST

I haven't thought about Telegard in a very long time. I was best friends w/ Carl Mueller and Cosysop of the Telegard BBS. I also helped him on a few of the late 1.x revs using Turbo Pascal 4.

An interesting side note, we were about 14 at the time, and although I've since LONG lost touch with him, I ran acroos him some more of his work when I was looking for an Intellivision emulator.

[ Parent ]

What I'd love to see. (5.00 / 1) (#4)
by kwsNI on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 10:19:03 AM EST

I'd love to see some of the old BBS games (especially the multi-BBS games) converted to a playable web version. I remember spending hours every day playing BRE and LORD.

I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it. -Jack Handy
Effort Has been Made to Bring These Back. (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by sketch on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 04:04:00 PM EST

Legend of the Red Dragon: lord.lordlegacy.org. I don't know enough about BRE to give you URLs, but I'm sure you could find it out there.

[ Parent ]
they're still around (none / 0) (#14)
by Delirium on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 05:25:25 PM EST

The makers of BRE are now Swirve, and they run several web-based games at games.swirve.com. Utopia is the game that's probably most similar to BRE.

[ Parent ]
Woops. i posted blow. (none / 0) (#22)
by Nuke Skyjumper on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 11:44:14 PM EST

I posted this outside of a thread already, but anyway...

I run lord.nuklear.org, which runs LORD through linux and dosemu, and provides a Web interface to player stats and a java telnet session.

Nuklear.org - refusing to believe that MS-DOS isn't still cool. :)

[ Parent ]
i did something like this (none / 0) (#26)
by rebelcool on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 12:42:00 AM EST

on a TBBS site i was on there was a little word guessing game. I replicated it on The Machine. Nothing incredibly fancy or intriguing, but i assure you, it is addictive.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site
[ Parent ]

Harder then that. (none / 0) (#5)
by delmoi on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 10:45:41 AM EST

This is kind of like doing a documentary about "The Car" or "Europe", but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

Well, it might be a lot more difficult then that. The BBS scene was inherently textual, while things like cars and Europe have a lot of video to their stories. A lot of things to take pictures of.

Videos of text files and acoustic modems doesn't really seem that interesting :P
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
From my Frequently Asked Questions on the Site: (none / 0) (#11)
by sketch on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 03:30:29 PM EST

This is my answer to that question that's on the bbsdocumentary.com site:

How Could This Be At All Compelling?
Is this going to be hours of people dialing modems?

The challenge of any documentary is to make itself compelling and interesting to a non-involved audience. A movie like The Thin Blue Line (1988) does a very effective job of drawing you into a story of justice gone wrong in a Texas Courtroom in 1976. If the director, Errol Morris, had made his documentary a series of re-enactments of the courtroom proceedings followed by copies of the newsreels of the time, he wouldn't have a tenth of the interest his work generated. Instead, he chose to tell the story in a way that has won huge acclaim, and in fact resulted in the release of a man from 11 years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.

While I doubt I'll be getting anyone out of death row, I do intend to have this documentary be interesting to folks who didn't use a modem, and to help show that it wasn't all just about dialing in, and typing a few messages. While I will not be doing any recreations of past events (I hold the belief they're somewhat cheesy) I do want the viewer to feel like they've gotten a glimpse of the magic of the BBS if they missed the boat, and to relive the magic if they were a part of it. This is a challenge; and I promise you it'll be something worth sitting through.

[ Parent ]

Trying to record a short segment of Culture (5.00 / 1) (#6)
by Sawzall on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 11:24:43 AM EST

And perhaps a pretty small one. On the otherhand, I know so many whose marriages, fortunes, and daily life depended on the BBS. I know that at one point in my life, the QWK packet kept me sane. I was traveling on the road for a living, and the ability to keep up with my community, regardless of where I was, kept me from totally desocializing.

It also led to the Net we have today. Sure the commericalism may have made it attractive to business, but the communication between folks made first possible through the BBS has given us such sites as the one I am typing on now.

Remember QWK vs. Usenet? (none / 0) (#36)
by 87C751 on Tue Aug 14, 2001 at 08:17:48 AM EST

Having run a Waffle BBS for several years (The Villa CyberSpace, 1988-1994, may it rest in peace; AKA uunet!comcon!cybrspc and later, cybrspc.mn.org), I remember the QWK wars. A number of Usenet-gated systems allowed QWK offline read/post, and it usually mangled the headers something awful. There appeared an "expert-mode" QWK variation (which placed all the headers in the message body, to avoid QWK packet damage), as well as an alternate format called SOUP (Simple Offline Usenet Packet). I even had a SOUP packer on my Waffle for a while.

I was also involved in the WWCP project, an interface between the WWIV BBS network and Waffle produced by a friend of mine in Alaska. It worked fairly well, until it hit some undocumented WWIV limitations. (WWIV nodes were theoretically capable of hosting 16776960 users, but undoc'd usage of some high-order bits in the user number kept the actual limit at 4096) Since the WWCP node created a "user" for every transited unique address, the userbase filled up quickly. (lots of unique addresses in newsgroups) A plan to form an alternate addressing scheme failed to materialize, as internet access began to eclipse the BBS scene in the early 90's.

The BBS scene was a real community. But I think we really wished for some centralization. Most evenings, it took about 2 hours to do my mail run, as I was active on some 30 different systems in Anchorage. Few of the systems were networked.

FWIW, before Waffle, I ran Ivory BBS and EBBS on a C-64 or a C-128. (even bought the source to EBBS, and the first thing I did was rip out the sysop chat feature :)

My ranting place.
[ Parent ]

Bluewave... (none / 0) (#7)
by fremen on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 11:59:54 AM EST

I never see this brought up in the context of BBS culture, but it was important to me. I was addicted to Bluewave.

Bluewave was this great piece of software that would bundle up your favorite FIDOnet groups and download them as one big zip file. Then you would write your replies and upload them at your convenience. Today it seems as simple as an offline news or mail reader. Heck, most long time Internet (pre-web) users would probably scoff at the simplicity of it. But at the time, I had never heard of the Internet and Bluewave was my lifeline to worlds far away from home.

Wow, a lot of memories...Qmodem, Bluewave, a list of BBSs... In retrospect, I consider it amazing that I ever found a girlfriend.

BBS is not dead yet (5.00 / 1) (#8)
by darthaya on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 12:26:57 PM EST

BBS is flourishing in China. The largest BBS system hosted in TsingHua university has nearly 200k users. That is nothing in US can compare to.

If you want to visit a similar Chinese BBS site in US, try telnet or Web interface.

They are using Firebird BBS system.

Not true. (5.00 / 1) (#10)
by Inoshiro on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 03:02:56 PM EST

The Well, a large BBS setup which still exists today in online form, in a community which has existed for over 15 years now. There are other large communities (I'm sure everyone called ExecPC BBS at some point :)) too.

[ イノシロ ]
[ Parent ]
Sysop. (5.00 / 1) (#9)
by Signal 11 on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 01:05:10 PM EST

I ran Eye of the Storm BBS, Western Wisconsin (715 area code), ph. 715-426-0186, IIRC, but I'm not sure. The other BBS' in the area were The Swamp, The Hill, and another run by a friend of mine - Jackster, who's BBS' name I forget, as well as another by Mike Vadnais, who I believe went on to form Spacestar, an ISP in Hudson, WI. The Swamp was run by David Bushard and was converted to an ISP as well - 'Pressenter'.

I ran a fair amount of software on my board - it was originally under WfW, but I looked at QView as at the time it was where 'it' was at as far as the OS to go with BBS' went. Eventually converted to Win95 - pre-emptive multitasking is a real boon, but the FOSSIL drivers were a bitch to get working. For the BBS itself - wound up on Proboard after running under Remote Access for a long time (registered!), before that I messed briefly with Maximus. I had remote access to my machine via a hacked-together DOS shell / batch file which used all kinds of hairy redirects and binary patches. It implimented a callback mechanism for validating users, but no CID.

Software - Legend of the Red Dragon (LORD), Barren Realms Elite (BRE), SRE, Global Warfare, a random 'wannabe-hacker' game, and a text-based RPG. Bluewave for the e-mail, a miscellany of Proboard plugins, and, of course - TradeWars 2002, which was reset very often because The Hideout sysop (Hudson, WI board) - Joe.. I forget his last name.. was very very good at it - when we played on local boards together, we'd do the "be good, get the super-ship, then go evil", and make tons of money emptying out the spaceports. We usually logged in a little past midnight when all the games reset.

Oh, the memories. Anyway, signal11@mediaone.net if you need any additional information.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

book (none / 0) (#13)
by goosedaemon on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 05:19:17 PM EST

i have a book in the basement called "the computer underground" about hackers and crackers and phreaks from that general era, with lots of transcripts and stuff. i could dig it out or something. i should note that other than a couple downloads i had nothing whatsoever to do with bbses, unless aol counts. ha ha.

my book has a chapter that discusses BBSes (2.00 / 1) (#16)
by adamba on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 07:25:09 PM EST

You can read chapter 14 online here, the discussion of BBSes starts a couple of pages later. Talks about Networks II, how we hacked up our own BBS, etc.

I have a stack of printouts from that era (1983-1984) also, although nothing electronic. One thing I should be able to find is a list of BBSes and phone numbers in Montreal (514 area code) from back then.

- adam

M-Net (none / 0) (#17)
by howardjp on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 08:35:38 PM EST

I wrote this for Rootprompt 18 months ago. It describes the history of M-Net, the world's first Unix BBS and and the longest running BBS in the world (18 years). These days, I am on the board of director's. I will gladly assist you in any way possible.

More (none / 0) (#18)
by howardjp on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 08:38:21 PM EST

Plug for Rusty: I first learned of Kuro5hin after it linked to the Rootprompt article.

[ Parent ]
And if you're interested in M-Nut ... (none / 0) (#42)
by irksome on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 10:31:59 PM EST

If you're interested in the history of M-net, you should read Jan Wolter's page, entitled "A Partial History of Computer Conferencing in Ann Arbor". Pretty well written, very informative.

I think I am, therefore I'm not.
[ Parent ]
UK BBS scene (none / 0) (#19)
by MisterX on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 09:42:53 PM EST

If you're interested in the UK BBS scene, I co-ran The Picturebox BBS for a short time. I have some floppies with old files from that era. I might have some BBS lists there.

Gee... this is taking me back. Those old disks will sure be a trip down memory lane. Bet there are even some .ARC files in there :-)


I run a BBS door through Linux (none / 0) (#21)
by Nuke Skyjumper on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 10:54:54 PM EST

Thought i'd mention it, since I just got the site back up and running today.

I run LORD (Legend Of the Red Dragon) online, using linux and dosemu. It's fully multinode (15 nodes), and can be played through a java telnet app on the page.

Check it out- http://lord.nuklear.org

Ye gods (none / 0) (#23)
by core10k on Sat Aug 11, 2001 at 11:47:16 PM EST

She's hot!

[ Parent ]
Those where the days... (4.00 / 2) (#24)
by RavenDuck on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 12:18:01 AM EST

While I never ran a BBS myself, I certainly had friends who did (here in Melbourne, Australia). One friend has only just stopped running one in the last couple of years - he and his wife played BRE every day for years.

I have some very fond memories of my BBS days, and can still remember my sense of wonder at *downloading* a file from a BBS using a 2400 baud modem on my Amiga 500. When I moved to the PC, I intially used Telix (DOS based, always) as my client, before moving to something more sophisticated (which I can't remember the name of). I remember the phone bills that I racked up calling dozens of local BBSs, before eventually settling on a couple I liked.

It seems like I spent many more hours in Bluewave and Qedit than I ever have in mutt and vim (which is probably not the case, as I'm subscribed to debian-user, and it has upwards of 100 postings a day). One board I was on, Nerual Hijack, had a very active couple of lists (or forums, or whatever we called tham back there). In the days of FidoNet, email wasn't nearly as instantaneous, and spam was certainly unheard of.

Back then, I used to chat online, and enjoyed it. I never got into IRC - it just wasn't the same. It was a neat little community, and it was lots of fun.

My world crumbled when my main hangout, EmpireBBS, went PPP. Suddenly no-one logged onto the text-based BBS anymore. The community fell apart very quickly, it seems.

I think it's unfortunate that such an integral part of my early online days has almost faded to nothingness. Most kids these days (it's depressing being an old fart at 26!) don't have the experience of pressing [Esc] twice and logging on with a 2400 connection, of knowing about Zmodem and ANSI graphics. I'd be very interested to see a project such as the one proposed above happen, even if it does make me feel old and sentimental!

For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ.
oh bbses... (none / 0) (#25)
by rebelcool on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 12:38:06 AM EST

I ran one from 1996-2000. CyberRealm in Houston. 713/281-463-7012

Most of my IRL friends from high school I actually knew from a bbs before I know them IRL. Today these are still my best friends.

Now that i'm in college, the current object of my desire I knew from a bbs when I was a freshman in high school. We didnt talk much for the next 3 years after it shut down, but now in college its blossomed into much, much more.

What's amazing about this is you wouldnt call any of these people the 'greasy nerd' type. Some of them are married now, the girl mentioned above is absolutely *gorgeous*.

As for software writing affected by bbses, my very own COG (mentioned in sig line) inherits many of its features directly from bbses. The chat on there was influenced by Ultrachat for TBBS, c|net chat on the amiga (unrelated to c|net.com, strangely enough) and many other influences.

If anything, using bbses during my 7th-11th grade years formed more of the current me than any other influence.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

osuny (none / 0) (#27)
by mveloso on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 11:06:32 AM EST

was probably the first major phreak bbs, and it was in the 914 area code (upstate ny). Don't remember the number anymore, but it was a trove of excellent info.

There also were a bunch of warez/pirate/crack bbs' operating back in the 2400 baud days. Woodland Hills CA had one, and there was Pirate's Cove on Long Island (516) and a bunch of ones up in Boston. Geez, there were dozens of them.

For an example from the old days, search for "Bioc Agent 003", an old denizen of those days. It's mind-boggling that this stuff is still floating around. See:


ALl Hail OSUNY! (none / 0) (#28)
by sketch on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 03:59:22 PM EST

I had the pleasure of being on OSUNY for a period of its History (I was known as The Slipped Disk) and I have a number of files and captures from my time on there.

As for Bioc Agent 003 and being sure to grab old files, the site you sent me to (The www.19f.org address) has a near-exact duplicate of the www.textfiles.com PHREAK directory, including the same textfile filenames and the exact same descriptions I've written for them over the past couple of years.

It's good to know someone thinks they're worth duplicating elsewhere. But you should probably take some time to browse www.textfiles.com because I've probably improved them greatly since www.19f.org took a copy.

- Jason Scott

[ Parent ]

OSUNY = UNDEAD (none / 0) (#32)
by lysdexia on Mon Aug 13, 2001 at 09:51:09 AM EST

Osuny still exists in one incarnation at: osuny.inri.net:7734. SSH only IIRC.

Apparently this version was started with the blessing of certain Ancient High Holies(tm), while others disapprove....

It is amazing that the Ohio Scientific computer is still this controversial after all these years! :-)

[ Parent ]
The original home of the wAr3z! (none / 0) (#29)
by clevershark on Sun Aug 12, 2001 at 11:38:07 PM EST

I remember a place called "East Bay Tech" which was serving up warez by the ton back in the mid-80s... whatever happened to that place?

It was operating out of a place called something like Sherman Oaks CA (or it was something Oaks anyway).

I couldn't resist going through the 613 list and remembering a few of my favorites from the 80s... Missing Link, Electric Blue, Twilight Zone, Spaces... man I'm old :-)

BBSs (5.00 / 1) (#30)
by nowin on Mon Aug 13, 2001 at 01:16:30 AM EST

A couple of thoughts here:

90% of BBSs has nothing to do with "hacking/phreaking". They had to do with exchanging ideas, maybe not great ones, but at the time I really enjoyed multiday discussions of Star Trek on FidoNet. They had to do with downloading really grainey porn. They had to do with making relationships with people clear across the country via e-mail (no, the internet did not invent e-mail). They had to do with getting help when you needed it (1 guy in California sent my ASCII schematics of how to build a c64 power supply when mine started overheating and shutting down).

I remember begging for a "computer shopper" (is it still in print?) so I could get a BBS listing from it.

And of course my best quoteable ever: "why would I buy a 1200 baud modem, I can only read at around 300ish?"


uucp? (none / 0) (#31)
by jkominek on Mon Aug 13, 2001 at 09:45:04 AM EST

I'm really pretty sure that UUCP email predated FidoNet...
- jay kominek unix is all about covering up the fact that you can't type.
[ Parent ]
Very true... (none / 0) (#33)
by clevershark on Mon Aug 13, 2001 at 10:33:31 AM EST

In a very real sense BBSs were direct precursors, for those of us not in universities or working on defense projects, of what the early internet was -- this is of course not at all a coincidence, since the user base was pretty much the same for both groups. Even today, it seems that people still have mostly the same general uses for the internet, although the pr0n today is slightly less grainy (so I've been told), and almost nothing you can get on the net will fit on an old-style 360K floppy "like they used to" :-)

I can remember the excitement in the mid-80s when things like FIDOnet started coming into existence, because it would allow you to start discussion forums, and maybe even direct messages, with users of other BBSs, using UUCP. What it really was, in hindsight, was e-mail and usenet being introduced to non-ARPA types. Indeed FIDOnet remains in existence to this day.

It's interesting that the Internet as we know it really didn't come to prominence until the Web grew to more than a handful of very technical sites. I guess that goes to show that even though e-mail remains the workhorse of the 'net, there had to be some kind of flashy, highly visual application which would first draw someone to be interested in using the internet at all.

And of course the old-style ANSI graphics weren't quite going to cut it as far as that goes :-) which is too bad, really, I was quite good at making those...

[ Parent ]
I Agree.... (none / 0) (#34)
by sketch on Mon Aug 13, 2001 at 11:27:14 AM EST

Part of what makes the documentary so huge and breathtaking as a project is that Hacking and Phreaking BBSes WERE rare; and there was such an amazing plethora of other BBSes out there, with so many different subjects being covered.

I go into this on the site in some detail, and expect further detail to show up on the site at some point, with some of the different "genres" of BBSes out there and planned interviews with people representing them. This research will be open so I can get further corrections.

[ Parent ]

Computer Shopper is a shadow of what it was (none / 0) (#40)
by ennui on Thu Aug 16, 2001 at 12:03:28 PM EST

I remember at its peak the page size was was huge, and well over 1000 pages, probably about 95% ads. Now it's about 200 pages, many more articles, and a fraction of the page size. CS was certainly a victim of the internet, what's the value of paying $4 for a three-month stale price on a desktop when you can go to www.whateverpricesite.com and get a live quote free?

"You can get a lot more done with a kind word and a gun, than with a kind word alone." -- Al Capone
[ Parent ]
I'm a Content Provider... (none / 0) (#35)
by slambo on Mon Aug 13, 2001 at 02:52:09 PM EST

Well, on textfiles, you've got a file that I compiled around ten years ago (here).

I've since updated the list and added quite a few more. The current list is here.

I also compiled and submitted a list of prototype and model railroad magazines that I've since seen updated and maintained by others (although I don't have a URL handy).

Although my files originally went to Usenet newsgroups rather than directly to BBSes, I've seen them pop up every now and then in BBS-related correspondence.
Sean Lamb
"A day without laughter is a day wasted." -- Groucho Marx

Sysop II (none / 0) (#39)
by bdowne01 on Thu Aug 16, 2001 at 11:06:43 AM EST

I ran a fairly successful BBS from 1992-1997 in the 313 area code. At it's peak in popularity--sometime during 1994-1995--I was pulling in 500-600 calls a day. Most of these were from local users, but at that point I had begun to get some out of state calls as well.

It started out innocent enough...A few months after I convinced my parents to buy me a "real" computer (then a 486/33DX), I went out and purchased a 2400 baud modem for about $60. Being green to the entire telecommunications world, I signed up with prodigy and poked around.

In a few months, I discovered that using HyperTerminal, I was able to dial up things other than Prodigy with my modem. It didn't take me long to find a text file written by Horst Mann containing listings of other BBS's in my area that I could call free-of-charge.

From that point on, I was a junkie. I was into the text files initially, but after burning out on waiting for downloads to finish I became a message board fiend.

I regularly called 15-20 BBS's and was active on almost every message board available on all of them. We talked about the latest rumors in the community, politics, opinions, girls, and just about anything that was important to a 16-year-old. Back then, the BBS largely determined the mood of the messages and it's users. If it was a board run by younger kids, generally the discussions were more about flaming and who was more 'l337 than you. The BBS's run by adults were generally more tame and had people that had something to say. I found a place in all of them, regardless.

The next step was the logical one: After a few friends convinced me, I started my own. Communication Breakdown was thrown together on same PC that I used to call the other BBS's. This was pre-multitasking times, so I used DesqView by QuarterDeck (anyone remember QEMM386?) to swap programs in DOS.

Soon thereafter my modems weren't fast enough, my hard drives were too small (I remember waiting in line at Egghead to buy a 540MB hard drive for...$540!), and eventually I even needed to get a second phone line and modem. I remember getting into a "size war" with the other "big" BBS of the area, The Crossover. I knew the Sysop from a few BBS meetings and we had fun trying to out-advertise each other and steal the other's users.

A few of my users were even kind enough to donate hardware (mostly in the form of old HDD's and even the ocassional modem). Long after my friends got tired running their BBS, I kept mine running...it was an addiction now...and I loved every minute of it.

I remember going out to eat with my family and thinking of what new ANSI art I was going to use for my logon screen. I remember "hiring" a very talented ANSI artist that went by the name of "Veediot!" to completely redo the look of the board. Being able to use "Doorway" to drop to DOS and do maintenance remotely. Tradewars2002. FrontDoor. Tic. And the batch files...many, many batch files...

At the end of the BBS, I was only getting 10-20 calls a day, a far cry from it's prime. I decided that it was better to retire it. I zipped up all the directories and burned them to a CD. The other day I unzipped all of it and took a look around...it brought back many memories.

The internet is a great thing, but I still long for those BBS days. Those were days before big corporate money got involved. Back then the only people who cared about "dialing-up" were the people in your geek world that shared the same interests as you. I miss it.

Brian "Turbo" Downey

yet another nostalgia post / rant. (3.50 / 2) (#41)
by bdb on Fri Aug 17, 2001 at 01:08:00 AM EST

Heh, going through your site made me all nostalgic for some of the old BBSes I used to frequent back in Jr. High. I remember that some kid I knew -- who went by the handle "Plant Man" -- wrote a text file entitled "The Stop And Shop Hack Handbook" -- basically pointing out a number of stupid things one could do to at our local supermarket chain. It gave suggestions on how to get other people's paychecks, how to log into the registers, etc.

It eventually found its way into the hands of some parent -- and before you knew it, there were people calling up the newspapers, newspaper stories being printed, reporters calling BBSes, pandemonium ensuing. It was powerful information -- it pointed out mistakes that people were making, and caused them to modify their behavior.

Textfiles must be preserved because they're a powerful, unique source of information, of history. I don't think most people appreciate them for what they are -- but then, historical information is not often recognized as important before it's, well, history.

An interesting analogy pops into my head -- that of the role of historical (now present-day) commercials in Demolition Man. Recordings of commercials and product jingles replace commercial radio (and the role of music in society altogether, if I remember correctly). Perhaps this in and of itself was intended to be a joke in the film, but it makes an interesting point: music is such a potent medium of human expression -- could it be replaced by something that we today find so inane and singular as commercials/jingles?

At the same time, I think we can all find at least something in a textfile that lets us express our ideas secondhandedly. We shouldn't let that go to waste -- thank you, Jason, for supporting the preservation of such a rich informational resource.

They still exist. (none / 0) (#43)
by tsidel on Mon Aug 20, 2001 at 12:44:06 PM EST

BBS's may not be as common, but they're definately non-existant.

Here's a huge list of existing ones: http://www.majormud.com/cgi-bin/mmudlist/mmudlist.cgi. And a few more here: http://www.metropolis.com/bbs.html.

Have fun.

BBS's may be an endangered specie. But they aren't extinct yet.


Help Save the History of the BBS | 43 comments (43 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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