Effective Shareware distribution via the BBS channel ----------------------------------------------------
Version: 1.2 Released: 08/10/92 BBS filename: BBSTIP12.ZIP
This text will describe ways to get widespread BBS distribution for your Shareware, and how to package it so that the maximum number of Sysops post it, and people download it.
This entire text is Copyright 1992 by Jay Caplan, ALL rights reserved worldwide. All product names referenced herein are trademarks of their respective companies. You are hereby given permission to copy, distribute, and publish this text by any means, provided that you do NOT alter it in ANY way, and that you distribute and/or publish it in its entirety. If this text is distributed as a compressed computer file, I expressly forbid any files to be added to the original compressed distribution file.
This text is based on my prepared remarks presented while on the "Interacting with Distributors" panel at the 1992 Summer Shareware Seminar, sponsored in part by the Association of Shareware Professionals (ASP). I can be reached at my board, The Consultant BBS at 718-837-3236, an ASP Approved BBS, or through Compuserve at 70421,17.
Getting widespread BBS distribution -----------------------------------
The first thing to realize is that there are several BBSes that serve as key distribution points. They are "feeder systems" for many other BBSes, online services, and disk vendors. By getting your Shareware placed on these Feeder BBSes, it will get excellent distribution. After sending your Shareware to these systems, you should place it on other BBSes. Suggestions follow the Feeder BBS listing below.
Please note that the first 4 BBSes listed are ASP approved BBSes, and hence will get any disks sent in the monthly ASP disk mailing. Participation in the monthly ASP disk mailing is STRONGLY recommended!
Feeder BBSes ------------
Exec PC 414-789-4210 Bob Mahoney ASP Approved BBS with 250 lines. PO Box 57 Running custom software. Elm Grove, WI 53122
Canada Remote Systems 416-629-7000 Jud Newell ASP Approved BBS with 201 lines. #D 1331 Crestlawn Dr Running PCBoard. Mississauga, ON L4W 2P9 Canada
Channel 1 617-354-8873 and 617-354-3230 Tess Heder/Brian Miller ASP Approved BBS with 80 lines. PO Box 338 Running PCBoard. Cambridge, MA 02238
The Invention Factory 212-431-1194 - registration only Michael Sussell ASP Approved BBS with 44 lines. 321 Greenwich St Running PCBoard. New York, NY 10013
Computer Connections 202-547-2008 Robert Blacher 202-547-3037 - uploads only 253 12th Street, SE Influential BBS with 4 lines. Washington, DC 20003 Running PCBoard.
Compuserve - place your Shareware in appropriate forums. IBMNET hosts several forums with popular download libraries; enter "GO IBMNET" to get there. You can also mail your Shareware to the Sysop of IBMNET, Don Watkins, at the following address:
Compuserve IBMNET Don Watkins 749 Parkside Drive Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Ziffnet, hosted on Compuserve with its own monthly $2.50 charge, also has forums with popular download libraries, including the Public Brand Software forum (GO ZNT:PBS) and PC-Magazine's Utilities/Tips forum (GO ZNT:TIPS). Note: the "ZNT:" prefix can be dropped once in Ziffnet.
To get a FREE Compuserve starter kit, with a $15 usage credit, call 800-848-8199 (or 614-457-0822) and ask for operator 162. This offer is courtesy of the ASP.
Other BBSes -----------
After getting your Shareware to the Feeder BBSes, then you should work on sending it to other BBSes. One logical strategy is to make sure that your Shareware is placed on one or more large, multi-node BBSes in every significant media market, or better yet, every state. Computer Shopper Magazine has a national BBS listing by state (the list is published every other month).
There are 2 other major national BBS lists:
1) USBBS - USBBSxxx.ZIP, where xxx = version number - updated monthly - available from Computer Connections BBS listed before
2) THELIST - BBSmmyyp.ZIP, where mmyy = month and year, p = A,B,C,D,E - updated every Monday morning (A = 1st one, E = 5th one) - available from the House of Files BBS at 516-938-6722
There are communications programs designed for automating online actions. Robocomm is one well known Shareware program. With Robocomm, you can automate the uploading of your Shareware to numerous BBSes. You can get Robocomm from its customer support board, Group One BBS at 312-752-1258. On other BBSes, look for it with a file mask of ROBO*.*.
At the least, you should make sure that you get your Shareware placed on the five Feeder BBSes listed previously, and Compuserve, even if you have to mail it to them.
Packaging your Shareware (and other tips) -----------------------------------------
The following guidelines should be followed:
1) Include a file INSIDE of your compressed distribution file named FILE_ID.DIZ - this is an ASCII text file, and can contain up to 10 lines of 45 characters each. The FIRST line of this file should always include the PROGRAM NAME and VERSION. The following lines should provide a coherent description of your program, stating its purpose and features.
When a compressed file containing FILE_ID.DIZ is uploaded to PCBoard based BBSes (the most popular) and some others, the description contained in the file will REPLACE the description provided by the uploader. In this way, the author can be assured that the program will be properly and consistently described.
Try to compose your FILE_ID.DIZ in a modular fashion, with the most important information near the top. Although the FILE_ID.DIZ file can accommodate up to 10 lines, the description CAN GET TRUNCATED by the Sysop (or perhaps by software on the BBS). However, my observation has been that most BBSes that use FILE_ID.DIZ will use the entire file.
If your application requires more than one compressed file to distribute, do NOT repeat the same FILE_ID.DIZ description for each of the other compressed files in the set. Either you should further elaborate on your program, or just state the program name and version. Include a notation that indicates which part of the set the compressed file is, like "(1 of 2)" or "[1/2]".
(Note: at the seminar, I said to use up to 8 lines. While 8 lines is the current PCBoard default for file descriptions provided by uploaders, the PCBoard configuration is IGNORED when FILE_ID.DIZ is processed. So, 10 lines may be used. Some 3rd party FILE_ID.DIZ processors used by BBSes will even allow more than 10 lines.)
2) If you are a member of the ASP, you should prominently state that in your documentation, and in the FILE_ID.DIZ file.
3) You should provide a CLEAR description of WHAT YOUR PROGRAM IS and WHAT IT DOES at the BEGINNING of your documentation!
Some authors mistakenly start out by telling the story of how they came to write their program, or they go into describing their program's functions, without first telling the user the purpose of their program!
Always direct your documentation toward the new user. NEVER assume that the user has any prior knowledge about your program!
4) Include documentation in PLAIN ASCII TEXT file format.
Many BBSes have the capability to allow callers to read text files inside of compressed files, while the caller is online! Many callers will use this capability to determine if the file will suit their needs. You should include documentation in plain ASCII text format no matter what kind of application you have.
5) Your documentation should clearly state the program version number and release date.
This will make it easier for BBS Sysops, disk vendors, end users, and all involved to maintain the latest version of your program(s). You should follow the convention of setting the dates of all files the release date, and setting the timestamps to the version number.
6) Your documentation should clearly state what you want the BBS filename to be.
This will help insure consistent product naming among the tens of thousands of BBSes, and online services. There are a number of times when this can be in doubt. These include: disks sent to BBSes that are meant for disk vendors, files renamed by end users, or files obtained from Compuserve, which has a 6 character filename limit.
7) Naming your distribution file: a good rule of thumb is to make the first 6 characters of the filename significant and mnemonic, and reserve the last 2 characters (out of 8) for the version number. This is so it can be uploaded to Compuserve, which limits filenames to 6 characters. If your application will be distributed in multiple files, the filename for each one should be unique within the first 6 characters.
8) You should limit the size of your distribution files to no more than 360k. This gives the average BBS caller enough time to download each file, and it will allow you to distribute the same files to disk vendors on 360k disks.
What are the practical limits on BBS file size? Well, most callers have at least a 2400 bps modem. Most BBSes give callers 30-60 minutes per day. At 2400 bps, using Ymodem or Zmodem, a caller can download files at around 230 chars/sec. In 30 minutes, a 2400 bps caller could download approximately 414k.
9) Most BBSes prefer, and many only accept, .ZIP format compressed files.
This is what you should distribute. Please do NOT imbed self- extracting compressed files inside of .ZIP files. All responsible Sysops and disk vendors scan the software they receive for viruses, and many virus-scanning programs will not scan executables inside of self-extracting files.
10) Arrange with one or more BBSes to be authorized distribution sites for your Shareware, where users can get the latest version of your software, and get online support from you. These BBSes should be clearly noted in your documentation.
It's important for users to be able to download your Shareware from a source they can trust. This means from the author's own BBS, or from a BBS or online service that the author has placed their Shareware on. I'm not going to introduce programs into my company's computers from an unknown source. You should make it possible for users to get your Shareware from a known reliable source.
Providing technical support for your application(s) on one or more BBSes is STRONGLY recommended! It's an easy and low cost method for you to answer questions and provide fixes and updates. It allows you to satisfy your user's tech support questions, and to do so at your convenience. You'll find that the users of your application(s) will tend to answer a number of the support questions posted.
In order to avoid long-distance phone charges, you should make arrangements with local BBSes. If this is not possible, Dan Linton, Sysop of Software Creations BBS, has indicated that he would be happy to arrange to have his BBS serve as an official distribution site. Dan runs a 33 node ASP Approved BBS in Clinton, MA at 508-365-2359. You can also contact him on Compuserve at 73230,3254.
11) If you run a BBS, then it's IN YOUR INTEREST to encourage the downloading of your Shareware. Callers should be able to download your Shareware through any high speed lines you may have.
12) When sending disks through the mail, please make sure you use proper packaging. For 5 1/4" disks, you should use the sturdy cardboard mailers designed for sending them. Do NOT send them unprotected in flimsy envelopes. I have received 5 1/4" floppies in flimsy envelopes that were damaged and unreadable. Don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish; use proper disk mailers. One source for floppy disk mailers (and floppies) is MEI/Micro Center at 800-634-3478.