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          21 Considerations in Selecting BBSs to Use & Enjoy
                             Ken Buchholz
                    The Washington Towne Crier BBS

BBSs are like mushrooms in spring - they seem to sprout up with every rain, and suddenly, without warning, disappear into thin air. There are thousands of BBSs to use, and since you can't spend every waking hour BBSing, you need to be selective in the system you choose to use. Here's some helpful hints to guide you in selecting the BBSs you utilize:

1. The SYSOP. You can tell a lot about the SYSOP without seeing the

  system in action.  As you log on, what is the flavour of the
  SYSOP's comments and prompts for answers?  If he/she nasty?  Does
  he/she give you the feeling that they believe they are God?  Does
  the SYSOP ask too personal questions, such as detailed information
  on where you work or live, your income or your sexual preferences?
  If so, don't bother completing the logon sequence - hang up and
  take your business elsewhere.

2. Does the system provide adequate telecommunications support, such

  as a high enough baud rate?  Systems which don't provide at least
  9600 baud today are probably going to be VERY slow in terms of
  user activity, and slow systems are dead systems.  Is the system
  constantly busy?  If a system is constantly busy, either the
  system has too many users, the system doesn't restrict session
  times, or the SYSOP is constantly taking his/her system down
  to play games, do their homework, etc.  Regardless of reason,
  find another BBS to frequent.

3. Does the SYSOP force you to suffer through endless screens of

  totally useless information, such as last N number of callers,
  lists of those who haven't uploaded enough (in the SYSOP's own
  opinion), lists of useless trivia such as "On this date in
  history..." and the like?  Are you forced to suffer through
  a seemingly endless list of "system messages" that date back
  more than a week or two?  Do it take more than 15-20 seconds to
  log on?  If the answer to any of these questions is "Yes", forget
  this system and hang-up immediately.

4. Do the logon screens/prompts change frequently? This can reek

  havoc on your attempts to fully automate your logon sequence via
  script files.  And it illustrates just how much of a plaything
  the SYSOP considers his/her system to be.  Again, forget these
  systems and go elsewhere.

5. The name of the system: If the SYSOP picks some space-faced

  name (Galacticom Gladiators or Space Base North, for example)
  or overly-cutesy name (Gina's Boutique or Dick's Doghouse),
  it will attract users of a similar mindset.  If this matches
  your mindset, continue to logon, otherwise hang up immediately.

6. Does the BBS' name change with the weather? This is indicative

  of a SYSOP who is about as stable as Jello.  Get your desert

7. Does the system require users to maintain an upload/download

  ratio?  If so, move on - there are too many systems around
  which don't have such restrictions to have to bother with those
  which do.  Again, move on... quickly...

8. Does the SYSOP allow "war-boarding", profanity and other trash?

  "War-boards" = "Kiddy-boards".  If you're a kiddy, great news!
  For the more mature user, dial another number and don't look

9. Is the system well-policed? For example, how old are the messages

  in the public forums?  If they are more than a month or two old,
  you really must reconsider the wisdom of using the system.  If
  they date back 4-6 months or more, boggie on... to another system.

10. Is the system well organized in a logical fashion? Are there

  different topical SIGs/forums/message bases, or is everything
  tossed into one big bucket?  Same goes for the File Libraries -
  are they organized into logical areas, or will you be spending
  time weeding through files of no interest to you to find those
  which are?  Again, there is no need to have to suffer through
  a mess when there are so many BBSs around which are well-
  organized and well-policed.
  Conversely, does the system have a SIG/forum/message base for
  absolutely everything under the sun?  Are the SIGs/forums/
  message bases splintered too much?  (Example: SIGs for DOS, Batch
  Files, Disk Utilities, Keyboard Utilities, Memory Management
  Utilities, etc., rather than a single DOS SIG/)

11. Are the files online available for downloading packed with PKZIP,

  ARC or some other packer, or are they available ONLY in an
  uncompressed state?  Time IS money and uncompressed files take
  far longer to download.  The only general exception to this rule
  are GIF graphics.  If you can't get your downloads in packed
  format, look elsewhere.

12. Privacy of YOUR information: Does the system allow users to gain

  access to the personal and usually VERY private information about
  its users, or is this restricted - available ONLY if the users
  elect to make the information available?  If you don't have
  complete control over your own personal information, hang up

13. What is the "theme" or purpose of the BBS? If the purpose of the

  system is "stamp collecting" and you have no interest in stamp
  collecting, don't waste your time and that of others in trying
  to change the theme of the system.  Move on.  In contrast, if you
  ARE interested in stamp collecting, use the system to the max -
  its definitely in YOUR interest to support the system.

14. What is the user activity in the public forums/message bases?

  If there is little activity and the BBS has been around for more
  than 2-3 months (i.e., the system is NOT just starting up and
  gaining recognition), move on.  Again, a slow system is a dead

15. What is the age of the SYSOP? Many youngsters 9-15 go through

  the stage where they absolutely MUST be the SYSOP of their own
  system.  Its genetic.  A FEW of these systems are run by mature
  young men/women, but most are just passing fancies and thus the
  systems will be online for 3 months or less.  Especially when
  Mom and Dad decide to punish Junior for getting that D in Math.
  If you use such systems, just don't be surprised one evening
  when you call and the Ma Bell Electronic Lady tells you "The
  number you have reached has been disconnected."

16. Does the system provide the transfer protocol(s) of choice for

  today?  For example, currently ZMODEM is the protocol most
  popular, and for good reason.  Does the system offer ZMODEM?

17. Network mail. So-called BBSs which offer network messages are

  not BBSs in the original sense.  Network BBSs tend to be "just
  another node" and don't have the local intensity and don't
  foster the spirit of comraderia that truly local BBSs do.  This
  is NOT to say that network systems are not worth using - quite
  the contrary.  If you need to get electronic mail to someone
  in another state and are too cheap to subscribe to CIS, GEnie,
  America Online, etc., and you don't mind exchanging electronic
  mail at a snail's pace, they are just your cup of tea!  But if
  you desire the spirit of a local system, network nodes are not
  going to satisfy you.  Personally I prefer local BBSs and
  Reach Out America - time is more valuable than money to me,
  so I pay the few cents to get my mail to someone instantly
  rather than wait a week to get the mail there and get the
  reply back.  Just personal preference...  But, if the network
  BBS is charging you for each message sent out on the network,
  go elsewhere, period.

18. The spirit of the users. What makes a BBS is the quality of its

  users.  If the users are mature, friendly, knowledgable and
  outgoing, the system will be hopping and you'll get the most
  from it.  If, on the other hand, the system fosters users who
  only want to logon and take downloads, forget forging any
  friendships or getting much help, such as answers to your

19. Hours of operation: Is the system available 24 hrs/day, 7 days/

  week?  If not, forget it; the SYSOP isn't committed to running
  a solid system if he/she doesn't spring for at least ONE
  dedicated line, and why should you have to rearrange your life
  around the system's availability?  Such systems never last very
  long.  Mushrooms in spring...

20. Is the system easy to use? In other words, are the commands

  logical and make sense?  Or are they Unix-like, cryptic and
  Greek?  If you need to download a manual to learn the system,
  forget it - go read a nice novel and get some enjoyment in
  life!  If you are on the system for 3 min and still haven't
  mastered the commands, Alt-H and dial another system.

21. Is the system free? If not, be absolutely sure what you're going

  to be getting for your money BEFORE you ship the cabbage.  There
  are thousands upon thousands of BBSs which are free, and if a BBS
  is going to charge you for your use of the system, make darn sure
  they are going to be providing you with something than you can't
  get for free further down the road.  Also know that many of the
  BBSs which have attempted to go the subscription route have failed
  miserably and either folded altogether or have reverted back to
  being a free, public-access system.  If the pay-for-use system
  you are considering goes back to being a free system, will you
  get your money back?  If the system goes offline permanently, will
  you get your cabbage refunded?  Chances are the answers to both
  questions are "No".
  Before you send in your money, the pay-for-use system should allow
  you some "free" connect time to investigate the system and the
  services it provides.  Unless you get some free time to investigate
  the entire system, move on.

This is by far NOT a comprehensive list of considerations to make in selecting which BBSs you utilize, but it should provide you with some elementary considerations as a start. The key to maximizing the benefits of using BBSs lies in being selective. BBSs should be places to go for learning, for getting public domain and shareware files, for exchanging thoughts, for getting news and for making friends who share some common interests (such as computers). But most of all, BBSs should be FUN.

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