SO YOU WANT TO BE A SYSOP? by Wally Byczek WallyWorld BBS 1989
To start a BBS, you first need a computer. No matter what computer
you currently have, it won't be large enough or powerful enough for what you intend to do. And since you can't take the board down (unless you run a kiddy board that bounces up and down or runs only between the time school lets out and Daddy comes home) to do your own work, you will need another computer that you can ill afford. Next you have to find a BBS software package. This can take months, or you can write your own if you are so inclined. This can take years. Next, unless you are starting a kiddy board, you will need a phone line other than the one that you normally converse on. Depending on the Telco's mood, personnel, and the imminence of a strike, this could be done in as little as 2 weeks or it may never happen. Next, if you plan to run doors on your board, you must now spend long distance dollars in scouring other boards for evaluation and aquisition of these games. Naturally, your external file protocols don't come with your BBS software, so you have to again scour the countryside to find them. Utilities for your BBS are also an after thought and have to be obtained in a similar fashion. All of these external programs have to be registered after a while, since most stop working after a while or have an annoying feature about them until they are registered. All of the above items take money! and plenty of it!
While we are on the subject of money, you must obtain a modem. Whatever
modem you currently have will not be supported by the BBS software. This is some sort of unwritten law pertaining to writing communication software. Be prepared to open your wallet wide. No, your old Hayes 300 won't be good enough. People even hate 1200 baud these days, and the teenagers seem to have USR HST's these days and will complain vociferously if they can't access you at 14.4.
Now you pick a name for your BBS. Whatever you choose will be
ridiculed by 20% of those who see it. Another 50% will offer suggestions that are worse than the one you chose. The remaining 30% won't care.
Next comes the wonderful task of installing your board. You have
your machine. If you just bought it, that means formatting your hard disk, installing DOS, and ASNI drivers and Lord knows what else that you need for your board. If you already have the machine, you may as well go ahead and reformat it anyway. Something will guarantee that you will have to do this before you are done.
The manual for the BBS software was most likely written by the author's 10
year old and was mimeographed. It got wet in the mail and smeared as well, so at least 30% of the manual will be physically useless. The rest is just procedurally useless.
Next comes the fun task of deciding on your board structure. Who can do
what and when can they do it. You must design your menus and opening screens. You have to get a pretty good stock of files, because no one will upload to you unless you have something there for them to take first. (not that it matters, I suppose, since even if you DO have files, they won't upload much anyway.)
Next comes the security aspect. You can leave your board wide open so that
users with the name of Benny Beanfart, Dr. Rape, Crack, Hack, File Attack, DR DEATH, etc can come in and do anything they like. Or, you can lock it up so tight that no one will call. There is no compromise on this.
Next you must build events or prepare to live at your keyboard. A BBS
HAS to be backed up. If you can't afford a high density backup medium such as tape or cartridge, you will spend many many hours per week flipping floppies. Events are designed to allow the sysop the luxury of having the board do routine tasks at odd hours by itself- Backups, purges and so on. These never work as they come and will have to be extensively modified by you. And since they generally only run at 3 AM, you will have to be awake to see just how they die and then try to fix it.
Alright... the big day is here. Your board is ready, your modem is
ready, Telco finally hooked you up, and then you start up. This is when after 2 days of no one calling, despite your ad in computer shopper and having placed your number on every other BBS in existance, you discover that the init strings for the modem are wrong. You discover this by calling yourself from a friends' home. This takes calls to the author of the software, the manufacturer of the modem and finally gets resolved by asking another sysop how to do it.
Oh Boy! Now we're in business! During your first caller's visit, someone
will hit a telephone pole and you will lose power. Naturally, since the board is new, you didn't back it up. The power surge when the electricity was restored roached your hard disk. Go back to low level formating…
Finally, you're up and working. After about a week of gleefully seeing someone call, you will encounter Benny Beanfart or his ilk. He will leave public posts (always in caps and terribly mis-spelled) about what a really lousey board this is and that the sysop is a three eyed twit. You automaticly kill his account. But do you leave the message for the world to see? hmmm… dilemma number 1. Killing Benny does no good because he will be back with another account such as SYSOP SUX or some such thing. Eventually he will tire of the game and go away, but he has given ideas to of his friends who will also visit you sometime in the next week.
Then you will be visited by the "smart kid" who can tell you everything
that's wrong with your machine, your software, etc. It doesn't matter that he's calling you on a Timex Sinclair. He knows more about your 386 than Intel.
By now, your name has spread around. Probably, if you are in Worcester,
the college kids have your name and number. If it is Spetember or January you are in trouble. You will probably be bombarded with file requests for commercial software. Some will assist you by uploading Lotus 123 ver 3 that has the copy-proofing removed. Whoever uploads this to you will then call Lotus Development Corp and tell them that you have a pirated version on your board (anonymously of course)
If you imposed an upload/download ratio such that users must upload one
file to get x numbers of files in return, then you will recieve 2K text files from them. They will download 2Mb of Gif files in return.
By now, you are disappointed with your message bases. You perhaps have (if
you are fortunate) two or three users who post messages outside of private mail. These three users are symbionts who, if one of their number does not call for 2 weeks, will not post because they miss their friend. Your message bases will starve. You set up many areas for messages, all carefully listed by topic. No public post will ever go into the area that it should be in. You will find a raunchy joke posted in the Bible topics area, technical questions asked in the political opinion area, and a message from one of Benny Beanfart's croney's in the technical section.
You will next encounter the user who can't do anything right. He will make
you feel terribly guilty that you are running this system that seems to rudely exclude him from enjoying it, because he cannot master the concept that M means Message, F means Files, D means download etc. He DOES however know how to leave comments to the sysop.
At first you will be responsive to all the user complaints and will make
a valiant effort to obtain the special game that was requested as a door.
You discover it on a board in the Fiji Islands and the off peak call cost
you 32 dollars to download it. You find then that the game was written for a board other than the BBS that you run. You search the countryside for a conversion interface. You find one in Omaha. add another 40 dollars in phone bills from the search. You discover now that the game must be registere with the author. This is another 69 dollars. You discovered this because after the game was installed, you called from a friend's house to test it. You find out that while the console looks wonderful while it is being run, the user sees a screen that informs him that the sysop is a cheap bum who didn't even bother to register this wonderful piece of software. Since the sysop is such a creep, why do you call there? Naturally, you register it so the annoyance screen goes away. After it has been on the board for 2 months you discover that only 1 person ever used it and he only went in there once, dropped carrier and hung up the board because you later discovered that this "wonderful" piece of software doesn't monitor carrier. Do you now register Watchdog so this won't happen again or do you just scrap the game?
The work load is getting heavy on the board. Wow! It takes at least 2 hours
per day to stay up with things. Answering mail, hunting down Benny Beanfart's latest account, changing screens, moving messages back to the areas that they truely belong in, adding new things, paying Telco, arguing with your spouse etc. You decide to get a co-sysop to help out. He will pay little attention to the needs of the board, but WILL experiment with things like remote drop to dos. hehehehe! I think this needs little elaboration.
By now, you are conversant with the many user complaints. WHY aren't you
around to answer the sysop page at 2:45 AM? Why does your message editor use A for abort instead of Q for quit? How come there aren't any nice ANSI screens? How come these crummy ANSI screens slow down the board? Why can't I stay online for 3 hours at a time? Why can't my C64 see your graphics.. It must be your crummy board! I never post messages because no one else ever does! What do you mean you killed my upload of Dbase IV? I did upload something a year ago.. so how come I can't download more than 100 files now? How come my friend has access level 50 and I only have level 40? Boy.. do you have a bad attitude! I think the Silicon Sarcophagus is 100 times better than this board! This is a free country.. I can say ANYTHING I want in public messages. What are you.. Hitler or something? How come nobody ever send me mail? I used a bit editor on Procomm and now it won't work.. tell me how to fix it. That GIF file I downloaded didn't run… this stinks… you really must be a lousey sysop if you don't check to see that it would work for me.
Then you will discover the wonders of sysop to user interactive chat. You
will find this to be a most opportune time to get things done. Since the majority of users who will page you into chat type at about .000001 baud, you can have a conversation with the user and get things done like mowing the lawn, making a three course meal, and cleaning out the garage before the user has stated his request. Generally, the chat request was for something such as How do I get out of a file listing or something similar that is well covered in the user manual that you have both as a file for downloading and as a bulletin for online reading.
One admonition is to not get angry about carrier drop by the user. Remember
that the user is calling you through the telco. Chances are that no matter how malicious or inept the user may be, the telco probably did it anyway.
Next comes BBS software upgrade time! Such fun! You will find that the
author no longer supports your version. You have to upgrade. This means once again opening your wallet. The new version will not have the same reserved file names, nor will the file structures be the same. The author generously supplies you with a conversion program. This program is designed to assist you in making all the little changes needed to perform the upgrade. It will automatically convert your file names and structures. There are two type of these programs. One that requires that you have 5Mb more free space than you do, and the other that will abort half way through the conversion because of a bad disk sector read and didn't have a corresponding error trap. Of the two, the latter is the more catastrophic, because now your data can't be read by either version of the software.
Since you successfully upgraded your software, you now discover what the
word Beta Site really means..
Now since you've done so well to this point, it's time for the hardware to
find something to compensate for all this good effort. Generally, the hard drive controller is the most likely device to make this decision to fail. It will not however abruptly die. It will instead, gradually mis-write to disk over a period of several days before deciding not to work at all anymore. This has the advantage that your last backups will be no good at all once you replace the controller and reformat the drive.
HeHeHE Still want to be a sysop?