Bulletin board system
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A Bulletin Board System or BBS is a computer system running software that allows users to dial into the system over a phone line and, using a terminal program, perform functions such as downloading software and data, uploading data, reading news, and exchanging messages with other users.
During their heyday (from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s), many BBSes were run as a hobby free of charge by the "SysOp" (system operator), while other BBSes charged their users a subscription fee for access. Still others were run by Internet service providers as part of their service to subscribers.
In some parts of Asia and Europe the term BBS may be used to refer to any online forum or message board. See Internet forum.
Bulletin board systems were in many ways a precursor to the modern form of the World Wide Web and other aspects of the Internet. BBSes were a highly social phenomenon and were used for meeting people and having discussions in message boards as well as for publishing articles, downloading software, playing games and many more things using a single application.
The BBS was also a local phenomenon, as one had to dial into a BBS with a phone line and would have to pay additional long distance charges for a BBS out of the local area, as opposed to less expensive local charges. Thus, many users of a given BBS usually lived in the same area, and it was common for activities such as BBS Meets or Get Togethers (GTs or GTGs), where everyone from the board would gather and meet face to face, to take place.
A notable precursor to the public bulletin board system was Community Memory, started in 1972 in Berkeley, California, using hardwired terminals located in neighborhoods.
According to an early interview  while he was snowed in during The Great Chicago Snowstorm of 1979, Ward Christensen began preliminary work on the Computerized Bulletin Board System, or CBBS.
CBBS went online on February 16, 1979 in Chicago, Illinois, and was the first of its kind.
With the original 110 and 300 baud modems of the early 1980s, BBSes were painfully slow, but speed improved with the introduction of 1200 bit/s modems in the early 1980s, and this led to a substantial increase in popularity.
Most of the information was presented using ordinary text or ANSI art, though some offered graphics, particularly after the rise in popularity of the GIF image format. Such use of graphics taxed available bandwidth, which in turn propelled demand for faster modems. Towards the early 1990s, the BBS industry became so popular that it spawned two monthly magazines, Boardwatch and BBS Magazine, which devoted extensive coverage of the software and technology innovations and people behind them, and listings to US and worldwide BBSes. In addition, a major monthly magazine, "Computer Shopper", carried a list of BBSes along with a brief abstract of each of their offerings.
Before commercial Internet access became common, networks of BBSes provided regional and international e-mail and message bases. Some even provided gateways by which members could send/receive e-mail to/from the Internet. Elaborate schemes allowed users to download binary files, search gopherspace, and interact with distant programs, all using plaintext e-mail. Most BBS networks were not linked in realtime. Instead, each would dial up the next in line, and/or a regional hub, at preset intervals to exchange files and messages.
The largest BBS network was FidoNet, which is still active today, though much smaller than it was back in the 1990s. Many other BBS networks followed the example of Fidonet, using the same standards and the same software. They were called FTN (Fidonet Technology Networks). They were usually smaller and targeted at selected audiences.
With the rise of the World Wide Web function of the Internet around 1996, BBSes rapidly declined in popularity in the west. In Europe and Asia, BBSes continued to increase in popularity for several years, but very few existed by 2004.
Several BBS systems connected directly to the Internet, removing the necessity of direct dial-up and consequently attracting a more geographically diverse user base. Today most remaining BBSes use the Telnet protocol rather than dialup, either by using BBS software designed to support Telnet, or by using a FOSSIL to telnet redirector or a COM port redirector with older DOS based BBS software.
Some general purpose bulletin board systems had special levels of access that were given to those who paid extra money or knew the sysop personally. BBSes that charged money usually had something special to offer their users such as door games, a large user base, or pornography. While many pay BBSes had pornography, some of the largest BBSes charged users merely for discussion boards. Pay BBSes such as The WELL (now Internet forums rather than dial-up) and Echo NYC (both of which exist to this day), and MindVox (which folded in 1996) were admired for their tightly-knit communities and quality discussion forums. However some "free" BBSes maintained close knit communities and some even had annual or bi-annual events where users would travel great distances to meet face-to-face with their on-line friends.
Some BBSes, called elite boards, were exclusively used for distributing illegally copied software. These BBSes often had multiple modems and phone lines, allowing several users to upload and download files at once. Most elite BBSes used some form of new user verification, where new users would have to apply for membership and attempt to prove that they weren't a law enforcement officer or a lamer. The largest elite boards accepted users by invitation only.
BBSing survives as a niche hobby for those who enjoy running BBSes and those users who remember BBSing as an enjoyable pastime. Most BBSes are now accessible over telnet and typically offer free email accounts, web interfaces, ftp file downloads, irc chat and all of the protocols commonly used on the Internet. Revival of the hobby that most presume to be from a "dead era" long since left buried under the sands of time has been gaining massive awareness by people who are nostalgic for what is referred to as "the hey-days". Others, including the newer generations of the 21st Century, are finding out about not only the "old school" BBS Technology but its modern day inheritor technology as well. Some BBSes are Web-enabled and have a Web-based user interface, allowing people who have never used a BBS before to use one easily via their favorite web browser. For those more nostalgic for the true BBS experience, one can use DOSBox running on a Linux PC and to redirect COM port communications to telnet, allowing them to connect to Telnet BBSes using 1980's and 1990's era modem terminal software, like Telix, Terminate, Qmodem and Procomm Plus. The same can also be done using NetSerial for Windows.
The website textfiles.com serves as a collection point of historical data involving the history of the BBS. The owner of this site produced BBS: The Documentary, a program on DVD that features interviews with well-known people (mostly from the United States) from the "hey-day BBS" era.
Much of the "Shareware" movement was started via sharing software through BBSes. A notable example was Phil Katz's PKARC (and later PKZIP, using the same ".zip" algorithm that WinZip and other popular archivers now use); also Wolfenstein 3D and Doom from id Software and many Apogee games.
See also: ANSI escape code, BBS door, Fido and FidoNet, Internet forum, ISCABBS, Tom Jennings and Ward Christensen
A classic BBS had:
- A computer
- One or more modems
- One or more phone lines
- A BBS software package
- A sysop - system operator
- Some BBSes allow telnet access over the Internet using a telnet server and a virtual FOSSIL driver:
- NetSerial (Windows)
- GameSrv/NetFoss (Windows) [popular]
- NetModem (Windows)
- SIO/VMODEM (OS/2)
- Synchronet bbs [Windows, Linux, OS/2]Synchronet Homepage [popular]
The BBS software usually provides:
- Login screen
- Welcome screen
- One or more message bases
- File areas
- Online games (usually single player or only a single active player at a given time)
- A doorway to third-party online games
- Usage auditing capabilities
- Multi-user chat (more common in later multi-line or telnettable BBSes)
- Internet email (more common in later Internet-connected BBSes)
A BBS will often have mail (or mailer) software to interface with a network, such as FidoNet. Commonly used mailers include (or have included):
- Argus [Popular]
- Blue Wave
- BinkleyTerm (widely ported to different Operating Systems)
- Seadog (very old!)
- Sinister Offline Mail Reader
- Portal of Power
- Platinum Express (for use with Wildcat! and WINServer)
- QFront (Wildcat! and PCBoard systems)
- Trapdoor (Amiga)
- List of BBS software
- BBS: The Documentary
- OSUNY, legendary old-school hack/phreak BBS from the 1980's
- Demon Roach Underground, a popular hacker BBS and former home of the CULT OF THE DEAD COW
- ISCABBS, the largest worldwide BBS located at the University of Iowa.
- Rusty n Edie's BBS, raided by the FBI in 1993 and sued by Playboy in 1997
- The BBS Archives
- BBS Documentary Video Collection (Internet Archive)
- Telnet BBS Guide
- The TEXTFILES.COM Historical BBS List
- BBS ads: a tour of ASCII and ANSI art from the 80s and 90s
- Bulletin board systems at the Open Directory Project
- Ward Christensen's account of the creation of CBBS, the first BBS in history