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my bbs experience

I was watching BBS: The Documentary and it got me to thinking that I should write up my be-all/end-all blurbs on the subject of BBSing before the memories become too faded to remember.

I'm not going to explain what a BBS is. If you want to know all about it, see the documentary, as it explains it a million times better than I could.


The story of how I got into BBSing goes like this: In the early 1990s my father bought a Tandy PC, which was a 486 25MHz. I think those PCs were DEC built at the time. Not sure. Anyway, it had a 130MB hard drive and a 1x CD-ROM with a manual click-in/out tray. The monitor was a 15-inch CRT. The software was DOS and Windows 3.1, which was standard fare for the time.

In the basement was an external Okidata 2400 baud modem, originally bought for the Commodore 64 but never used. I asked Pop if I could get a cable for it to hook it up to the computer, because somehow I had found out about BBSes, but damned if I could tell you where from. Someone told me about it or something, and I knew I wanted to connect to one. Pop was reluctant about letting me do that (probably worried about high phone bills or something), but he decided to let me give it a go.

Now before continuing, bear in mind I started to use BBSes just a few years past their prime. The heyday as far as I'm aware for BBSes was in the late 1980s, and I started using them just after that. This means I was never in the BBS world at the time when 8-bit PCs ruled the school. My first experience with what I considered a "real" computer was that 486 with Windows 3.1. The 8-bit boxes to me were just toys or things I used in grammar school that could barely do anything.

To me, BBSes were nothing but DOS. I know that's not true at all, but that's what I saw them as. DOS, DOS and more DOS. I think in all the time I connected to BBSes I might have dialed in to only one Amiga system. Other than that, it was all DOS and a few running OS/2 Warp (which by the way was the ultimate multitasker OS for BBSing).

The first one

As for the first BBS I ever connected to, I think it was the one run by Senexet Computer in Woodstock, CT. From there I learned of other systems and called them every day, usually several times.

I was what was known as a leech at first, because all I ever cared about was downloading files. I wanted files, files, files and more files. I always scanned the file bases for new stuff and grabbed whatever looked interesting.

After a while I started playing some door games. My favorite was Legend of the Red Dragon; a favorite of many. I also played Planets: TEOS (The Exploration of Space) and a few others.

Being a sysop

After I had my fill of that I decided to try my hand at being a Sysop and ran a board called The Frosted Side! BBS. And believe it or not I actually paid for a copy of Proboard 2.16, which upon reflection was stupid and I'll explain why in a moment.

At first I was using the house line to run a part-time BBS. Later on I got my own phone line and ran it full time.

Eventually I got to know a few other Sysops in the area and started hanging out with them. From that I got access to some of the "secret" areas from some of the local boards. What did these areas contain? Adult stuff, of course. And that was my first experience with that stuff.

Message networks

The one thing I never truly got into were messaging networks. The biggest one was FidoNet.

One thing never mentioned about those networks is how difficult they were to use. It was simply not easy as a user or as a Sysop. Using those echoes had a fair share of learning curve to it.

On my own BBS I never bothered connecting up to a network like that because the way to do it was all screwed up and cost you money besides which.

I mentioned a moment ago that it was stupid to pay for the BBS software I used, Proboard. Why? Because almost all the other sysops were running hacked copies of RemoteAccess BBS, and I should have done the same. Not only were they running hacked copies of RA, but also FrontDoor, the mailer program needed do to the message network crap.

It was because of FrontDoor that I never bothered to set up connecting to a message network. It required a lot of stupid-ass configuring that didn't work half the time and piled on extra b.s. that simply wasn't worth the bother, so I said fuggit, no message networks. I never regretted that decision.

What was the best part of BBSing?

The community more than anything else is what made BBSing great. I didn't really experience that until I became a Sysop. When I did, whoa, a whole bunch of people wanted to be my friend all of a sudden. For whatever reason, being a Sysop made you "cool". I have no idea why, but it did.

Goodbye BBS, hello internet

I took my BBS offline more or less the same week I got my first internet dialup account. It cost $18.95 a month and I paid it happily to access email, instant messaging and all the cool stuff the internet had to offer.

It made absolutely no sense to keep the BBS online to take calls because it interrupted the time I could go on the internet, so when I took my system offline, I shed no tears over it. In fact I didn't even make any announcement it was going offline.

Will BBSes ever make a comeback?

Not in their original form they won't. The people who don't have landline phones anymore are growing in number, and the landline is how you originally connected to a BBS in the first place.

The BBS of The Future, should it ever exist, will be wi-fi based. People still discuss this even today; I found a conversation on the subject less than 3 days old about it. The discussion talks about creating a small private wi-fi network where people could connect locally at whim. This is for all intents and purposes an underground local BBS.

What people don't understand about the internet is that the only thing keeping it running are the phone and utility companies because they have the poles with the wires. What people also don't understand is that if enough folks connected enough wi-fi routers together, they could in essence create a second internet. Granted, it would have nowhere near the reach of the first internet, but the point is that it can be done..

..and it's something computer guys find very attractive because it can exist outside corporate shackles completely.

BBSing could never truly do that because it relied on the copper wire to exist.

Heck, I'd set up a box to participate if there were people around me that wanted to form one up. Sounds good to me. 🙂

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