Computer Bulletin Board Systems (bbs)

Discussion in 'Gadgets & Tech Talk' started by Admin, Mar 27, 2020 at 12:37 AM.

  1. Admin

    Admin Forum Administrator
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    How many of you logged into computer bulletin board systems before public access to the Internet was common? Have any of you run a BBS? Have you heard of them? Did you know that many of them are still in operation, and new BBS software is still being created?

    The BBS was a forerunner to the Internet, and they included most of the stuff that we commonly use on the Internet. In fact, many of the early Internet service providers first began providing dialup access to the Internet through their BBS, email technology companies first provided email services for BBSes, and the oldest antivirus companies first went into business providing antivirus services to BBSes.

    I am reminiscing on computer bulletin board systems because I have created a BBS category at the directory I work on since we didn't have one. It's still new, so I'll be adding at least one more subcategory and several sites to it before I'm done.

    Using a terminal program and a modem, a caller would dial into a local BBS. MS-DOS and most other operating systems came bundled with a terminal program; I don't know about Windows, but macOS still does. People who frequented BBSes would sometimes buy a third-party ANSI terminal program, but the one that came with the OS would usually suffice.

    I loved the modem handshake sound that occurred when my modem connected with a BBS, and you could usually tell how solid of a connection you were going to get by the sound of the handshake.



    Back then, whatever operating system you used, your connection was going to be largely text-based. What we had for graphics was ANSI graphics, which would look something like this.

    ansigraphic.jpg

    Here's a simulation of a basic BBS, although many of them had more features than that.

    BBSes were often free, although many of them had monthly or yearly membership fees to help pay for the considerable expenses. When I ran a BBS, my phone bill ranged from $300 to $500 a month, so I charged for access.

    Early BBSes were dialup so, when a caller didn't have a BBS local to them, there would be phone bills on their end as well. My BBS was located in Los Fresnos, Texas, and I had a regular caller from England. In fact, even those who had local BBS systems would often call long-distance ones as well.

    Once you had an account and you were logged in, depending on the BBS, there would be a number of things that you could do.

    I had four telephone lines connected to my BBS so I could accept four callers at a time, plus I could be on via local access. Callers could chat with anyone who was on at the same time as they were. I even had an artificial intelligence program that would pose as a caller.

    As an early AI program, its responses would be keyed to words that had been programmed into it. I didn't create the program but I could change its name, add trigger words and programmed responses. I could even add several responses for each trigger word, which would be chosen randomly so that the AI wouldn't answer the same question in exactly the same way each time. So its sophistication was in part dependent on the amount of time that I was willing to put into it.

    I usually assigned a girl's name to the AI because BBS callers were about 90% male, and I programmed it so that if someone called her into chat and tried to pick up on her or used offensive words during their chat, she (the AI program) would threaten to report them to the SysOp (system operator), which was me. I got messages from a couple of these kids apologizing for having said whatever it was that they said and begging me not to kick them off the BBS.

    Most people figured out she was an AI after about a half-hour, though.

    My BBS had dozens of games that callers could play online. Some were single-player games, but others were multiplayer games. Kids would make appointments with their friends to call in after school, then tie the BBS up for hours playing multiplayer games. Since I had four lines, multiplayer meant from two to four.

    The most popular game was LORD (Legend of the Red Dragon), which was a role-playing game. Callers could play one another, but there were also computer opponents to spar with. Basically, LORD was an early version of a MUD, if you are familiar with them. We even had inter-BBS game networks, where one BBS could challenge another BBS playing the same game.

    For the last couple of years, I also had DOOM, which strained the resources of the two computers that powered my BBS.

    Most BBSes, including mine, had a local forum, very much like this one, where my local callers could carry on discussions with other callers to my BBS, whether they were on at the time or not. They could also send private messages.

    My BBS subscribed to a regional hub, which included about fifty BBSes in my local calling area, so I also carried a regional forum, which any BBS in the network could subscribe to. Through that, they could send private messages or email to people who weren't members of my BBS. Every hour, if there was at least one line free, my BBS would automatically call out to the regional hub, uploading anything added by my callers and downloading everything added by anyone on any of the other BBSes on the network.

    I was a hub for four international networks. Any other BBS in my calling area that wanted to participate in either of these networks would set their BBSes to call out to mine, doing the same thing as with the regional network, but including stuff from all over the world. My BBS was set to automatically call out to the super-hub at 3:00 am when I nearly always had a free line and the long-distance rates were lower. Often, I would force extra call-outs throughout the day, which was a part of the reason for my high telephone bills.

    BBS forums were almost identical to the forums you're familiar with, except that, with regional or international forums, every BBS on the network would have to have their forum topics structured in the same way, so if I wanted to create a new sub-forum, I couldn't just create it. I would have to propose it to the network. Anyone could start a thread, however, just like here.

    There was also a file area. Home computers were new and many communities didn't have computer stores or software retailers. For that matter, there wasn't a whole lot of commercial software available. Most of the software being distributed was distributed either for free or as shareware, and program authors would routinely call into BBS systems to upload their new programs, particularly the larger BBS systems, which were typically the same BBSes that served as network hubs.

    So callers could also browse the files area, looking for new programs to download. Since that was a selling point for a BBS, I made a point of having the new stuff. If it wasn't uploaded to my BBS, I'd download it from another BBS and add it, another contributor to my high phone bills.

    Some shareware distributors would send floppy disks of shareware programs to BBS SysOps too, to be added to their files area.

    Some BBSes also had online stores, mostly selling downloadable products like computer software, but others sold computers, modems, and other stuff. This was before PayPal, though, so that required a merchant's account with a bank, and most banks didn't want to deal with BBSes unless they could promise a large number of sales.

    I started my BBS in 1984, first using WWIV BBS software on MS-DOS with DESQview providing multitasking. When Windows came out, I tried running it in Windows but that was a disaster. I couldn't leave the house without finding the BBS crashed when I returned. Deciding to switch back to DOS/DESQview, I decided to try different software, so I went with PCBoard. It was easy enough to set up and it ran great, but it was proprietary software, so there wasn't a large user community creating games and modifications for it, so I switched to VBBS, which I loved. But the author decided to switch from a shareware model to proprietary software and announced that paid shareware registrations wouldn't be honored. I wasn't about to pay twice for the same software so I started looking around.

    By then, PCBoard had come up with an OS/2 version so I bought two new computers, installed OS/2 on them and set the BBS up to run PCBoard/OS/2, which included its own multitasking functions. Once I got everything set up, I replaced the VBBS system with the PCBoard system as soon as I found a moment when I didn't have any callers online and shocked all my users who had just logged off of my VBBS board to find a whole new BBS setup when they called back a half-hour later.

    PCBoard with OS/2 worked great. There wasn't a glitch, and both my computers were on 24/7 for at least three years. By the mid-1990s, the Internet had taken the bulk of BBS callers so, when I took another job that took me out of town, where telephone connections were not clear enough to run a BBS, I shut it down.

    That's it. That's my BBS story. Have any of you logged into a BBS?
     
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    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 27, 2020 at 2:45 AM
  2. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Senior Staff
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    Oops. I started that thread with my Admin account. I don't usually do that.
     
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  3. Von Jones

    Von Jones Veteran Member
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    It (BBS) doesn't sound familiar but I do remember the sound of the modem dialing.
     
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  4. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Senior Staff
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    From dialup Internet, probably.
     
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  5. Maggie Mae

    Maggie Mae Very Well-Known Member
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    My first computer was an Apple IIE and we logged onto a BBS. It seemed so "space age" at the time LOL I've not thought about that experience in years !
     
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  6. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Senior Staff
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    I had a friend with an Apple II, when I had a Coleco Adam and a TRS-80. We were the only people I knew in town who had computers.
     
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