21 Considerations in Selecting BBSs to Use & Enjoy
Ken Buchholz The Washington Towne Crier BBS 708-803-0428
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
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 elsewhere...
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 back...
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 immediately.
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 system.
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 questions.
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.