May 6, 2000
10:07 PM   Subscribe

Written in 1982, this sysop reminisces about the "Golden Ages" of BBS's Kind of ironic that I hear people say the same things today about the net.
If I had been smarter, I'd have used my brother's Amiga 500 to modem around a bit, but unfortunately, text files like this are about as close to that time as I can get. Amazingly enough, with everything that's online these days, these old text files are some of my favorite things to spend my time reading.
posted by lizardboy (12 comments total)
"text files like this are about as close to that time as I can get" meaning roughly 1986-ish.
posted by lizardboy at 10:10 PM on May 6, 2000

I don't even know how a BBS works... *sniff*

Yeah, you dial to some computer, then what?
posted by hobbes at 10:12 PM on May 6, 2000

Wow.... "300 Baud modems".

How long do you think it would take to download a typical webpage with that? They should make a "Smithsonian-type" website with stuff like that...put all the classic early web stuff in it.

Maybe then, I could have had a chance to see JZ's "Batman Forever" movie website....

Hell, my son would have loved to have seen it....
posted by EricBrooksDotCom at 10:27 PM on May 6, 2000

They used to have an article featuring old pages, which seems to be gone. One such page listed is still around: NCSA Multimedia Demo.

I loved them BBS days. Started with a C64 on a 300 baud modem I got for free with my QuantumLink subscription, then moved up to an Amiga 500 at 2400 baud. Then we moved away from Seattle to an area without BBSes and I gave it up. Many years later, I was coincidentally reunited with a couple of old BBS friends through the blog community (which I never would have known about if my girlfriend didn't stumble upon weblogs and start one of her own).

Doesn't mean anything to anyone, but I like telling that story. :)

posted by dan_of_brainlog at 1:09 AM on May 7, 2000

I got into BBSing after my father got a modem to be able to have access to his files back in '88. An AT&T 2400 baud job.
The biggest problem was actually finding BBSes to call. I was lucky to happen upon a list of BBSes in a city not far from mine while shopping for games. I was amazed: huge (well, they seemed huge then) BBSes, hundreds of files to download, thousands of users. I was in awe.
Most BBSes posted lists of other BBSes, so I managed to 'get home', find some boards in the town I lived. I was amazed, there were some 20+ boards in a town of 40 thousand. My jucies were flowing. Just like on the internet, we formed communities, we met... we actually had BBS parties (which were always held in pizza parlors for some strange reason).
BBSes weren't the islands that people make them out to be. FidoNET, CrackNet, BlueNET, *NET - there was mail swapping going on between boards (which caused non-multi node boards to go offline for 2-3 hours every night) and some networks extended nationwide, others internationally. Sure, you had to wait up to 3-4 days for a reply... but I guess it was just a sign of things to come.
The utter truth is that the Internet killed the boards. It's a bit sad but it's what happened. It's *much* easier to put up a web site than to properly configure PCB, make all the menus, etc. Then there was the matter of a dedicated computer, modem and phone line. It wasn't easy.
But I still loved it. I think most BBSers made the rollover pretty well, I still see some of the same names from fido show up here and there, I sometimes double check to see if it is in fact the same person. Usually it's not but sometimes I luck out.
posted by jedrek at 3:35 AM on May 7, 2000

There was a BBS scene(-let) in the 8-bit days of my youth, but like net access today, they were pretty much restricted in scope because of the metering of local calls in the UK. The hardware was pretty expensive, too: you'd pay the same price for a Sinclair-compatible modem or acoustic coupler as you did for the computer itself.

But the real issue here is that so much of the history of this period is like the social history of the early century, the stuff of ephemera. There's so little tangible evidence that it's up to the communities to produce stuff of record, and the fragmentory nature of "the BBS scene" works against that.

It's really nostalgia weekend, isn't it?
posted by holgate at 4:26 AM on May 7, 2000

*Our* BBS parties always seemed to be held in all-you-can-eat buffet's...

I sort of miss those days: it's almost impossible to form a local community these days. The Internet is *too* global: if you actually manage a meeting of Internet connected people who didn't already know each other, they're almost always a local group of some national, interest-oriented, group (the 'local' Perlmongers, the 'local' GIMPers, etc...)
posted by baylink at 8:37 AM on May 7, 2000

Wow, I remember wardialing for BBS's back in my TRS-80 model I days.
posted by harmful at 2:46 PM on May 7, 2000

It was all about TradeWars. I'd get home every from school day and blow the hell out of innocent planets... Some of those old text-based BBS doors remain among my favorite games. I think I miss them more than the people I was interacting with--I was in my early teens and most of the people on the boards I frequented were in their twenties. But there was an active BBS culture, at least in suburban Maryland, into the early '90s.
posted by snarkout at 3:32 PM on May 7, 2000

Heh. I've actually MET those two pioneers (the ubiquitously named Ward "of Xmodem fame" Christensen and Randy Suess), spent a lot of time on a successor Unix system.

I don't have a LOT of nostalgia for the BBS days; most of what they were trying to do can be done MUCH more easily with the internet, and reach an exponentially larger audience. FidoNet discussion boards were claustrophobic and slow compared to Usenet or internet mailing lists, and the coolest ASCII graphics just don't match what you can do with Java or Flash.

The only point to one of these was to be part of a local f2f group. It's the only thing they do better. But certainly what they did was worthwhile and amazing for the time.

I don't miss my 300-baud modem, the acoustic coupler, the dorky DOS shareware games I used to download.
posted by dhartung at 3:55 PM on May 8, 2000

hobbes, it was the same modem connection as you use today, just using a simple text-oriented character protocol instead of a packet-oriented one like TCP/IP. Usually you'd get a login screen, then a welcome, that would have a menu of places to choose from: Files (lots and lots of ZIPs, and before that ARCs), Games (strategy, rpg, even action!), Chat, and Message Boards. Sometimes they'd run more complex things like a MUD or host a FIDONet discussion (like Usenet but less traffic and much slower -- it would take days to see replies from distant BBSes). Later BBSes added color graphics to their DOS screens, and even music using the PC's dimwitted bell. (Atari and other systems had BBSes that traded MIDI-quality music.) You usually had a way to tell who else was logged on at the same time, and a way to "page" the sysop if he was at his PC in case you were lost or just aching for a chat.

Most BBSes centered around a theme, say videogames or RPGs, and were aggressively local. Most in the 80s were run by teens and had small numbers of users who mostly knew each other. It could be hard or pointless to break into these cliques.

Good ones, like The Well, Chinet, BIX, M-Net, and so on, could have excellent caliber of discussion and many resident experts.
posted by dhartung at 4:03 PM on May 8, 2000

*chuckles* I was thirteen. My current email address ( shows my 'roots'. TAG, Telegard, Renegade, Tradewars, BRE... all words I know well.

I used TheDraw to make my ANSI graphics, my 2400 baud modem to connect... In our area we had the HORST MANN 313 list.

A guy went around compiling and producing this wonderful list of hundreds of BBSes in MI. check out and his "BBS talk" page for a bunch of nostalgia, coming right atcha.

BBSing saved my ass. Got me a girl (more than a few, in fact). We held our parties at bowling allies or Denny's. If it wasn't for my local boards, this crazy freak of an extrovert never would have come into being.

My ICQ list has 30 people listed under "BBSers". My best friends in the world are people I first met 9 years ago through the joy of bulletin boards.

(PS I don't agree with the ancient article referenced, I think the golden years were yet to come. When I was one the scene, it was on fire with real posts, communication, and community.)
posted by Xavier at 12:35 PM on May 9, 2000

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