What are/were BBSes?
Are they still around?
How would I access one?


From The Jargon Dictionary:

The old school Bulletin Board System’s (BBS), before the internet, was a way of connecting to a remote computer that contained, basically a BBS. You could upload and download files, post on a message board, or play games. This all sucked though because most of the services consisted of one modem. Some of the better ones though had modem pools, but still, those days it was like between 9600bps and 28800bps, the good ole days. Also most of them were based on ASCII text (Think DOS), just plain colored text and very few GUI’s (RIP BBS). There are still some out there too, but very few. The most popular BBS hosting software was by Renegade. I’m sure if you googled it you’d find it. I would think this would be the best way for terrorist’s to transmit info. The FBI I doubt monitors this kind of activity. It’s like vinyl records. You mention the old type of BBS’s to kids these day’s, they think your talkin’ about the SDMB.

How fast would that translate into Ks?

That would be about 9.6 k. I remember when 9600 bps was considered blazing fast after using 300 and 2400 bps modems. Of course, at this time there was no such thing as “graphics” and everything was ASCII text.

The simplest BBS was just a stand-alone PC connected to a modem. No network connection at all. People will call up the BBS directly with a modem to download/upload files and leave messages. Eventually larger services appeard, like Prodigy and CompuServe. I guess you can’t call them BBSes - they were computer services with access points in various locations. They were still isolated from each other. AOL started out as one of those network services, but when the web browser was invented they started allowing their users to access the Internet through their dial-up network. I believe the SDMB originated from an AOL message board.

In the very early days of the Internet there were a few Internet BBS sites. Web browsers weren’t invented back then so we used Telnet, which is just a text based terminal. You telnet to a site and use its services, typically chat, message boards and file archives. They were mostly replaced by web pages between 1993 and 1995, IIRC.

There are still old-style BBSs in operation even today. However, all the ones I know of are Ham-operated packet radio systems. These use a radio modem attached to your transceiver to send and receive data at 1200 baud using the Bell 202 standard tones. I used them extensively on 2 meters before I got internet-connected. But now, my packet modem (built myself from a kit) is just sitting there, gathering dust. Some packet stations also had landline dialup access, usually only available to members of the ARC that operated the station. MIR had a packet station on board on 2 meters (and also 70cm, IIRC) which I was able to access on a few occasions, and I did once successfully transmit a message to it, but never did get a reply.

Oh, how I long for the days of the BBS! I got into BBS’s when I was in high school in the late 80s. I had a 300 baud modem which I dialed by hand. Eventually I got a 1200 bps “smart modem” (one which supported the Hayes AT command set) and started my own BBS. They said I needed a hard drive to do it, but I showed them! I ran QuickBBS on a 4.77 Mhz XT clone with only a 720K floppy drive and a 360K floppy drive! It was slow, but it worked! Over time I grew to the point where I had a “real” computer (a 386-40 with 4 megs of RAM) and could even run multi-node under Desqview.

OK, I’d best stop right now. I could go on forever.

I used to work packet radio on 2M, too, back around that same time, but I lost interest in packet as landline modem technology advanced and packet radio remained at 1200 baud, for the most part. Yes, I know there are madmen who do packet over megabit links in the microwave bands but it’s just not common enough to be worth investing the time and money in the necessary hardware. It’s interesting to me that BBS’s still exist on packet radio, though. It makes me want to dig out my old TNC (packet radio modem) and see what’s around these days. Oh, and I received the packet beacon from Mir, but I never connected.

A friend of mine still runs an internet BBS but he sort of morphed into being a micro-scale ISP as the popularity of the internet took off in the early/mid 90’s. The BBS is still there, though, although nobody uses it any more. And to think it used to be the focal point of my entire social life. God, I’m a geek…

There are still telnet-able BBSs around, though I doubt there are any dial-in ones left.

ISCA (Iowa Student Computer Association, the “big” one that nearly everyone I know started on):


There’s Global Village and a few others, but I don’t know the addresses off the top of my head.

You can telnet through the MS-Dos prompt by typing TELNET at the c:> prompt, then typing OPEN [address] at the telnet:> prompt. There’s also some telnet clients out there – you could probably find some at places like

Golly, BBS’s were about the only non-commercial thing around until 1995 or so (by that, I mean generally available just about anywhere you are). There were even services such as PCPursuit that, for a monthly fee, would let you use local Quantum Link (now AOL) or Compuserve dialup numbers to get to long-distance BBS’s for free (well, less the monthly fee). Note: some “BBS’s” then were paid services.

TeleFinder in 1988 (maybe further back) was a complete GUI BBS system, with an option text-based interface. I think it was for Macs only (hence “Finder”), and it worked just like the Mac Finder (again, hence “Finder”).

I think I got on Quantum Link first in 1986 or so with my “free” 300bps modem from them. Quantum Link is now AOL, but hey, I was young and there was no accounting for taste. :slight_smile: Oh, yeah, the point is it was a complete “graphical” online service, in the sense that it wasn’t all text-based. Well, everything on the screen was text, but it wasn’t like DOS. Q-Link was a C=64-only service in those days.

I seem to recall a “networked” BBS system for message boards that was very similar to USENET – I seem to recall its name had something to do with frogs or toads or reptiles or something. Any ideas? The messages would be exchanged between BBSs eventually, wll, kinda like USENET now. Maybe it was USENET?

God, I do feel like a geek – I’m only 31. :slight_smile:

You’re thinking of FIDONet, it’s still around.

There were a ton of other, smaller (usually more regional) message networks, but FIDONet was by far the biggest.

The guys that run them don’t like me to make this analogy, but a lot of EDI systems are identical to the old BBS systems. Of course, the content is pretty boring, purchase orders, pack reports and invoices exchanged between distributors and vendors, etc. However, the direct-dial mailbox functionality is exactly like a lot of the old BBSs. Most of the EDI systems are converting to TCP/IP and using an email exchange instead of the direct-dial BBS format, which seems like a dying gasp to remain relevant.

I used to be a Sysop. (system operator, someone who runs a BBS) I ran Terra BBS for about a year or so, on a Commodore 64 with a single disk drive (360k) and a 300 baud modem. There was a message board and a couple of online games. Those were the days…I’d keep a magazine handy for when I had to download a 50k file, as it took a while.

Sysop? Been awhile since i’ve heard that. They call them “Administrators” or “Mods” now.

I remember BBSes. I was only about 12 when I used them. I remember the excitement of sticking a new phone number into my dial-up program, waiting to see what exciting world would open up. I remember a few that had two or three phone lines so that you could actually chat with other users. I really do miss those BBSes.

:smiley: Oh the good old days. I loved the C64, tape drive and the old handset modem. They don’t understand today the typing all day to get the newest game from the Commodore mag. and then uploading to the BBS to download other games. :cool:

** TeleTronOne** Ahh what found memories I have of FIDONet. As a teenager I remember spending way too many hours dialed into The Mailman, a FIDONet connected BBS in Anchorage.This is where I had my first real email address, first experienced newsgroups and of course online gaming. In particular I loved to play a game called Baron Realms Elite, a kind of turned based empire building strategy game, playing against other local users was fun but the best part was that it was FIDONet aware and let you launch attacks on other BBSes anywhere in the world! It was sooo awesome back then - we had a great rivalry with another BBS in Seattle. There was just something really exciting about communicating with people that far away, so easilly, just by typing a few commands. Almost magical ya know.

Ahh memories, I could go on describing my friends CNET (Amiga) BBS or the multiline chat boards that starting appearing etc… but I won’t as this much nostalgia is making me feel like an old man and I’m only 24!

With respect to networking that’s not strictly true: there were proprietary networks set up by the BBS manufacturers (like OraNet) and public networks set up by hobbyists with an engineering bent (like FidoNet). If you were a BBS operator (SYSOP) your machine would be assigned a hub and a time slot. The BBS would take itself offline at the designated time, call the hub, exchange messages and sometimes files, and import the data into its local message database. In the worst case it would take a few days for your message to reach the other side of the country, but the system worked quite well. The FidoNet systems used UUCP as a message exchange protocol which eventually allowed users of that system to enjoy Internet e-mail and Usenet newsgroups by the late 1980s.

Single-line BBSes (a lone PC attached to a lone modem) were indeed the most common type of system, but the most popular were the multi-line systems that could handle between 8 and 32 incoming calls simultaneously. These systems invariably charged a subscription fee for access, from $5 per month for limited access to $0.02 per minute for unlimited access. This was on top of any long-distance charges you paid to call the BBS in the first place, and while there were no nickel-a-minute carriers at that time there were services such as Sprint TeleNet’s PC-Pursuit which acted as a sort of long-distance relay: you’d dial a local number to connect to a modem bank and then control that modem to reach your destination indirectly.

Multi-line BBSes provided five core services: e-mail, discussions, file transfer, chat and matchmaking. Of these, only matchmaking has no Internet equivalent: you’d answer a questionnaire which the system interpreted as a search template and returned the questionnaires of other users who matched your criterion. The questionnaires themselves ranged from vapid to salacious, but it made it possible to know quite a bit about another user before engaging them in e-mail or chat.

Almost by default, multi-line systems were the equivalent of electronic singles bars: the emphasis was very much on sex, pornography, ‘hot chats,’ dating and so forth. Unlike the Internet where you’re as likely to encounter someone from Australia as you are to encounter someone in the next city, the BBS scene was inherently local: real-time get-togethers were regular, informal events. (One bar I remember even had a BBS terminal pre-programmed with the numbers of the local systems so you could check your mail while you were there.)

Everybody in the local BBS scene knew everybody else, or at least they seemed to. It was a different time, as the majority of Americans didn’t own PCs and the majority of those who did own them didn’t have a modem. Once those people migrated to the Internet the local BBS industry lost its user base: few new users came along to replace them because when people outfitted their PCs with modems it came with software for connecting to America Online (known by several regional names such as “Chicago Online” at the time) and Prodigy (remember NAPLPS, anyone?)

During the mid-1990s several makes of BBS software attempted to Internetize themselves – some would allow you to connect to an open BBS line through a Telnet port for example, and cumbersome and inefficient schemes such as RIP allowed text-based boards to partially graphicalize themselves, but it was too late. Everyone was on the Internet directly through a SLIP connection or indirectly through a national provider like AOL, CS, Delphi et al.

Rest In Peace, BBSes. We hardly knew ye.

Dang it – that’s it. Don’t know where I got frogs or amphibiians, but at least it was an animal!