How to Become an Unsuccessful, Burned-Out SysOp -----------------------------------------------
It seems as if everyone who gets a modem and calls bulletin boards toys with the idea of running his own BBS at some time. The plain truth is that bulletin boards come and go with alarming regularity. A few stick around, but for every one that reaches its second birthday, five will appear and vanish. Here are a few simple tips to insure that your effort at running at bulletin board places you in the majority.
PINCH PENNIES - You spent thousands on a computer. It's silly to spend more than $1.98 for a BBS program. You might even find one for free. After all, if cheap is good, free must be better. Be sure to shop for a rock-bottom price on a modem, too. It doesn't matter if no one ever heard of that brand before…they will before you are through.
SCHIZOPHRENIA IS THE ORDER OF THE DAY - Keep 'em guessing. Try at least a dozen different BBS program…after you officially open your system. That will keep the callers on their toes. You wouldn't want to be predictable. Change things around constant- ly…menus, screens, the flow from section to section. You really don't like it when callers use logon scripts anyway.
SPEAKING OF BEING PREDICTABLE - Make your board part time. Change the hours frequently. Part of the adventure of calling a BBS is finding out what hours it operates. Pick strange ones: noon to 3 pm Tuesday and Thursday, 6 am to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Midnight to 6 am weekends, except national holidays and the third Tuesday in September.
DON'T WASTE MONEY ON A SECOND PHONE LINE - You don't need it for a part time board. You meet such interesting people who call at 3 a.m. looking for a modem tone. You did want to meet interest- ing people, didn't you?
TAKE THE BBS DOWN WHENEVER THE NOTION STRIKES YOU - After all, it is your computer. So what if you want to play Tetris at 8 pm. The callers can just listen to a busy signal for a while.
BE RUDE TO YOUR CALLERS - They're all schmucks who don't know anything. You don't have to be polite to them. Do your best Don Rickles imitation when they ask questions. Call them names and make fun of them because they don't know all about protocols and modems and such. After all, you know everything about them… don't you? Dump them in mid-call because they take too long to read the menus and messages…or just because you want to use the computer.
MAKE IT A DELIGHTFUL MAZE - Make your menus so complex that a PhD couldn't find his way around your BBS. Hide the files in obscure corners and give the commands strange names. While you're at it, build in some "black holes" to really confound the users. Then complain bitterly if people just hang up instead of logging off properly.
Follow these simple rules and I can guarantee you will join the vast majority of BBSs that fade into the sunset within months or even weeks of starting up. Now, obviously, these are not serious tips. Quite the opposite is true. There is much more to running a BBS than just slapping a program and a modem on your computer and waiting for the phone to ring. Let's look instead at some positive suggestions to help make your efforts successful.
IT PAYS TO BUY QUALITY - Ever wondered why that free software is free? Could it be because it is so bad the author couldn't get anyone to pay for it? How about that generic, "bargain" modem. Why is it so cheap? Old technology? Inferior parts? Poor workmanship? Want to bet on how long it will last? Good soft- ware can make the difference between a dream and a nightmare when it comes to being a SysOp. Same thing for reliable hardware. You DID spend thousands for the computer…so spend a hundred or so for decent, reliable software and protect that investment. It won't do much for the reputation of a new BBS if it is constantly off-line for various malfunctions.
CHANGE IS OK, BUT IT MUST BE FOR A REASON - Callers like change, but they also like the familiar. Make changes slowly and delib- erately. If radical changes are unavoidable, warn your callers ahead of time. Make sure you are truly ready before you open your system to the world. Callers get discouraged when they have to log in as new users 4 times in 4 weeks because you keep exper- imenting with new programs. Most of them won't complain, they'll just quit calling.
KEEP IT SIMPLE - Incredibly complex BBSs appeal mostly to the "hacker" types. Are these the people you want on your computer? Most folks want a BBS that is simple and logical, with commands that make sense and are easily remembered. That still leaves plenty of room for creativity and originality.
BE ORIGINAL - OK, you have your brand new BBS up. It's plain, vanilla RBBS software, right out of the distribution files. They even had those neat screens and menus in there all ready to go. Now you sit back and wait for the callers to ooh and aah over your lovely system. Don't hold your breath. Everyone got tired of those screens long ago. Come up with something fresh. Call distant BBSs and get ideas. Don't steal whole screens intact unless the SysOp has packaged them for distribution. Even then, make a few changes to make them your very own. This is one of the best ways to demonstrate to callers that there really is something special about your BBS.
SHOULD YOUR BBS HAVE A "THEME?" - Maybe. That's the best answer I can give. Some theme and special purpose BBSs are very suc- cessful, but the world probably doesn't need another BBS based on Dungeons & Dragons. If you are going to give your system a theme, make sure it is one that will be interesting to most callers.
GIVE THE CALLERS WHAT THEY WANT - within reason. Listen to what your users have to say about the system. ASK them what they like and don't like. If the majority of them hate a particular fea- ture, get rid of it. If most of them want something you don't have, try to get it. Remember, they have choices. There are plenty of other modems out there waiting to answer the phone.
MAKE IT AVAILABLE AS ADVERTISED - part time boards rarely suc- ceed. Some stay around through sheer inertia…just because it's too much trouble to take them down. Hardly anyone calls these boards for long…especially if the operating hours are bizarre and irregular. If it must be part time, make it regular. 24 hours is always best. Frankly, if you can't make the commitment to a separate phone line, you really aren't ready to run a BBS. The same goes for using the computer yourself…you promised it would be available at certain hours. Unless there is a real emergency, you aren't living up to a commitment unless you have it on-line for the promised hours.
TREAT YOUR CALLERS LIKE FRIENDS AND WELCOME GUESTS - After all, YOU invited these people into your home! It's true, some callers are brainless twits. There have always been people like that and there always will be. But remember, for every jerk that calls, there are 9 or 10 really nice, interesting people. Concentrate on the good folks and ignore the clowns…sooner or later they will get tired and go away.
THINK ABOUT THE KIND OF BBS YOU LIKE TO CALL - Your callers probably like the same things. Analyze the other BBSs you call. What do you like about each? What do you dislike? Do you feel welcome on some and like an intruder on others? Why? How will someone else feel after calling your board? Will they want to call again?
HAVE PATIENCE - Be patient while your BBS builds a following with the callers. It may take months before the traffic is at the level you anticipated. Be patient too with inexperienced users. Help them learn instead of harassing them. Did you appreciate sarcasm and wisecracks when you asked "dumb" questions as a beginner? Everyone is a beginner sometime.
Keep these tips in mind and you will find that your BBS grows and succeeds while countless others come and go. Why? Because you treat callers with respect and consideration! Because you make them feel welcome. Because you really care about what they like and dislike. Because you put yourself in their place and look at the situation as they do.
Does all of this sound like a lot of work? You're right. It takes a lot of effort to run a popular and successful BBS. But the rewards of meeting new people, making new friends, seeing other points of view, make it all worthwhile.