The Changing BBS (c) 1992 by Lois B. Laulicht CCC of WV
The BBS world is growing rapidly in users and is changing in character faster than one might ever suspect. A new and different BBS orientation may be in the process of being created; not simply a place to download shareware but rather a BBS with highly specialized materials catering to the needs of a targeted clientele. The public BBS as we presently know it could be in a transitional state and could be taking on characteristics quite different from what most BBS users have learned to expect.
Sysops have already zeroed in on specialized areas such as Windows and OS/2, programming languages and tools, more accurate and current data base files on many topics, and several specifically geared to the problems of new DOS and new BBS users. Some random notions of where the BBS is heading could include the following.
As newspapers which take advertising, editorialize, and have all the features of a hard copy daily.
As vehicles for political parties, pressure groups, other countries, and lobbyists.
As super stores for computers and computer peripherals or anything consumers are likely to buy through catalog sales.
As real estate and investments hubs where principals can send and receive information for ongoing transactions; match clients to property and generally speed up negotiations and routine paper work.
As independent local advertisers for local communities similar to Green Sheets and Penny Saver publications. One free access BBS already exists in the Los Angeles area with advertisers paying all the costs.
Conditions are already in place for the beginnings of some these issue oriented BBS' and a number could already be functioning in the terms described without the knowledge of its membership.
When doing a simple search on James Toro's THE LIST by topic, one finds BBS' already specializing in files which provide information about investment and real estate to world peace and women's issues with much in between. A sampling includes but is not limited to coin and stamp collecting, the environment, writers workshop, substance abuse, the handicapped, animal rights and one of the most popular… genealogy. As fast modems and the increased number of computers shorten the overland distance from one community to another, the potential for efficient national organization along these various interest areas increases.
It is interesting to speculate how long it will take, if it hasn't already happened, for the various political parties to begin to use their local BBS and the nets as another way of accessing individuals to support their cause with funds and volunteer time. Think of the possibilities to assign campaign tasks of organization, fund raising, and voter registration through linked BBS'es with a single professional organizer calling the shots on-line. Pressing flesh takes on new meaning. The problems of leadership and other resources are all but solved using this strategy. Already there are active discussions and controversy in conferences like Opinion and Politics on ILink touting one candidate over another. This could well represent a natural recruiting ground for individuals with compatible political sympathies. Joining a party controlled BBS might be like joining a political club down the block. A call to the regional FBI made it clear that this would be quit legal under present statutes so long as campaign contributions are handled in the normal way. I have been told that both major political National Committees have actively discussed this as a viable link in their total campaign strategy.
I wonder if the present laws governing lobbying practices would require registration of these kinds of activities. I wonder if disclosure is required in order to conduct on-line lobbying activity. I wonder if Sysops lease their expertise and services to the political parties they support as do other political consultants. And finally, if this has already occurred, I wondered if the members who support a BBS are informed about these activities before the fact. The analogy of what newspaper one reads and supports has meaning within this context.
As sort of a joke I recently recommended to a Sysop that perhaps his BBS become a Computer Super Store. With adequate planning and capital one might easily create an exciting business opportunity. We already buy shareware, modems, new and used computer components and chips using the BBS. Additionally many of us turn to the various conference areas and the huge pool of user expertise for problem solving purposes. Why not one stop shopping at The Super Chip BBS ?
The obvious point however, is that the BBS makes possible rapid transfer of information which is NOT necessarily computer related. In Washington and New York there are several search agencies which regularly use the BBS to gather resumes to match with open jobs and their requirements where all parties retain anonymity. I wonder how successful these operation are for both job seeker and employer? There is little reason why they shouldn't work and work well. In most states, however, there are regulations which limit the activities of employment agencies with stiff fines and penalties to enforce their rules. Could this be one of several areas where regulation becomes an issue?
The question of what is legal and what regulations limit constitutional freedoms has already surfaced. Allegations of improper law enforcement as well as abuse of the public forum aspects of the media are under fierce discussion and could well create legal disputes between users, Sysops, the various nets and law enforcement agents ending for settlement in the Supreme Court. I see controversy occurring in areas of soft and hard pornography, rate differentials for telephone line users with modem speed as the decisive criteria, extremist groups advocating violence and/or exclusion against minority groups, as well as illegal trafficking in substances, children, animals and other fencing operations.
As our technology has increased in sophistication, as in medical services, we have increased the proportionate number of sick people. As our information technology has increased in sophistication and use there is a decrease in literacy and access to that information. I believe that this is a worrisome phenomena!
Very recently I've been in touch with Animal Net out of Ft. Collins, CO. My impression is that their focus is upon animal rights. Their Sysop Jim Cherry was very helpful and hospitable. He was knowledgeable about the enforcement side relating to experimental animals. Because of their commitment to a relatively narrow social issue there was little that they could provide in the way of information relating to interstate trafficking of animals for resale to individuals as opposed to research facilities. The notion of simple theft, punishment and disgrace, or focusing upon the return of stolen animals to their owners were simply issues which were not priority items. I am sure this represents a resource problem. However related the issues may be there was no coordination of information gathering or dissemination to and from the public and more importantly law enforcement. This is a high profit enterprise!
Very frequently newer users or business have difficulty in defining their specialized need for computer systems. Because we have traditionally used computers for word processing, accounting, data tracking and statistical modeling we tend to think in traditional terms and a larger picture mode. Most of us conduct our affairs in a much smaller arena. As we begin to translate what we know and ordinarily accomplish into what we wish to accomplish using the computer, learning to "computerize" these ends become very much easier. Additionally, we become more able to instruct computer professionals in what software and hardware needs are required.
The Federal and State governments have not done much to carry services to either contract providers or their varied client constituencies through the use of the PC and a relatively simple data base and access. The state of Maryland is beginning to deliver an information base FOR welfare recipients. Having been involved in the very early and failed effort of a national Job Bank, one learns that it is far more complex than simply making data available. Whether you're talking about information which contractors must supply to qualify to perform services or information to parents about student loans the problems of easily understood access are endemic.
Instructions are poor to non-existent. Access to information about these data base sources are not readily available to the general public. Public access to computers or terminals in libraries, municipal buildings and shopping malls are practically nonexistent.
As the public begins to discover the value of this information in their daily lives the gaps between literate users and those without experience and training will narrow. Perhaps our society will then begin to regain its reputation for organization and efficiency.
Next time the BBS and national politics!