What ever happened to real bulletin-board systems?
First off, I'd like to make it perfectly clear that I cannot
be objective in these notes. These are observations, but they are from 1) a Sysop
2) a user of 8BBS, the greatest BBS ever evolved 3) a boy ... who's become a boyish programmer 4) an old timer....1977 was when I first started using BBS systems. 5) the author of a BBS system
If you're expecting objectivity, then don't bother reading on. I have a
rather unique perspective on the entire BBS scene. I've been around since close to the beginning, and I'm wondering what has happened. Have BBS's gone the way of CB? Is the entire system in a slump? Is there anything wrong at all?
I'm going to try to present these questions and show how things have
changed…for the better, and for the worst.
A long time ago, in a city far-far away, two men had an insight. Ward
Christensen and Randy Suess wanted a way to leave notes and messages to their programmer/engineer friends. Back then, modems were used by field-engineers and some high-level executives to talk to their companies computers. A 300 baud modem was extremely fast, as most people were using 110 baud TeleTypes. Ward and Randy devloped the concept of the BBS. They called it CBBS, for "Computer Bulletin Board System." CBBS was the first of its kind. It was an enormous program written in 8080 assmebly language. By our standards today, it was kludgy and bug-ridden, but back then it was heavenly. Users could enter messages and read messages… that was about it.
CBBS was a wonderful concept, but it was localized to the Chicago area. Ward
and Randy were the only ones who were running the program. Then Bill Blue came along and wrote ABBS, which was designed to "emulate" the CBBS system. I feel it was ABBS, rather than CBBS which made the real breakthrough. While ABBS was much less powerful, and more difficult to use, it could be run on a "universal" machine: –The Apple ][–
Anyone with an Apple ][ and a D.C. Hayes MM][ modem could run ABBS. This
program could be installed in a matter of minutes, and anyone could have their own bulletin board system. Soon after the release of ABBS, several other BBS programs (for various computers) soon followed. ABBS was the king for many years, just because there were more ABBS systems than any other BBS program available.
It is this time that I would like to refer to as the "Golden age of the BBS."
It wasn't as golden as you might think. Most Sysops would come home every evening from work to find that their BBS had crashed because of yet another bug. Even back then, user's logged in under false names and left obscene messages.
The one point that made that age golden was the users. Without users, a BBS
is just a program. With users, it gains a personality, and if I may be metaphysical, a soul. The users MAKE the BBS. A Sysop may have the greatest BBS program in the world, but without active users, he just has a computer wasting line-current.
LIFE IN THE "GOLDEN AGE"
A user would think nothing of spending his Saturday helping "The Sysop" find
an intermittant bug in the BBS program.
A user would not only answer his or HER mail, but also butt into other
people's conversations and throw in his/her two cents worth.
A user would suggest improvements to make the system easier to use.
A Sysop would care for his BBS like a baby. He'd spend 2 hours each night
writing messages and playing with modifications to the program.
A Sysop would NOT restrict conversation to one particular topic...such as CP/M
A Sysop would tolerate kids who were just learning how to use modems. He'd
even give them a hand getting things working.
A Sysop would [on his own preference] dilligently weed out obscene or
"pseudo-illegal" messages, – or – promote them as he saw fit.
Users would start clubs, such as the well known "Gabber Gang" and later the
infamous "Phone Phriekers" who figured so prominently into BBS history.
The government didn't try to restrict BBS users. It was just "us" against
tyranny (at that time "Ma Bell"). Although most users did not approve of "Phone Phrieking", everyone talked about it, and was interested in it for curiosity sake if nothing else. [Hard to believe, but true.]
Uploading and downloading of programs did not exist.
BBS's were few and far between. When I wrote the OxGate, the two closest
other CP/M based machines were Kelly Smith in Simi Valley (375 miles away), and "Jim C" in Larkspur (100 miles away). People tended to congregate on the local system.
WHAT HAS KILLED BBS SYSTEMS:
1) Program uploading and downloading. People just get their programs and
2) The technical clique's retaliation against "gabbers" who just used the
systems for personal communication.
3) Too many BBS systems in one area. BBS's are still alive and healthy in
4) The loss of "anonimity" among BBS users. The BBS used to be the place to
escape. Where no one had to be "themselves." Users such as "James Bond" and "Captain Scarlet" were given free reign to vent their fantasies. Today, most systems do not allow false names so they can keep track of users.
5) The anti-hacker movement. More and more people today think the word
"hacker" means "phone phriek/computer crasher." All it ever meant was "great programmer." You would feel proud if someone labeled you a "hacker."
6) The press' ignorance of the BBS community. By trying to make a scandal out
of all of it, they ruined a great form of communication. In particular, the magazine "InfoWorld" has done more harm to the BBS community than other press organization. While they actively TRIED to HELP the community, they have caused more harm in their mis-reporting of info.
7) Sysop's ignorance. Quite frankly, the average quality of "Sysop" has
dropped. Sysop's are (on the whole) less active and less responsive than 5 years ago. More and more of them are technically incompetent, they couldn't fix a bug if it bit them in the nose.
All of these problems are inter-related. We can't solve any of them until all
of them are solved. From my descriptions it should be obvious that the "golden age" certainly wasn't all gold. People like "James Bond" and "Sam Daniels" had to be stopped, but the pendulum has swung too far to the opposite side.
These observations are very general. I've noticed this swing, and it has
taken place on 95% of all of the system's I've called across America. It's sad that these problems have stabbed us in the back, but it's not too late to try and bring about a change. I don't have the answers, but maybe these observations will prompt thought into this death of a virtual "art form" of communication.
There is one possible solution to this problem... the acceptance of children
again. For too long we've been kicking off kids (both phyiscal and "kids at heart"). They've been disruptive, and caused fights galore. Many have even tried to crash the systems they used.
"If there's any hope, it lies with the proles." -- George Orwell, _1984_
Perhaps the thing to do is call a few local Commodore and Apple boards and let
the users know that they're just as welcome on your super-fancy 100mb 2400 baud RCP/M system as any of your so- called "serious users" . . . "serious users" who can't even bring themselves to answer their own mail. Saddening.