BBS Days Recalled

Wildcat!Got to thinking about things the other day and gave a few thoughts back to the computer day prior to the big kickoff of the internet revolution in the mid 1990’s. Not sure how many of you were around doing computer things in what the version of online prior to the boom, but it was largely systems called Bulletin Board Systems. It was with fond memories I skipped down that lane from that time period in the late 80’s on into the early 90’s. I still count among some of best friends those that were made in that time period and though we have perhaps not kept up with each other as much as we should have, we still occasionally correspond in some way.

What days and times those were. It was a time when truly the geeks ruled the places. There was little to no inter connectivity between the various systems. As a matter of fact, most of the systems were only accessible via one phone line over a 1200 baud modem by the time I really got into it, though there were still plenty of systems running on only a 300 baud dial-up line too. But the speed was okay at 1200 baud, as it was all text-based. The BBS SysOp (system operator) usually had a theme or some general nature of the particular board that being ran. As a user you would call into the ones you wanted, check for emails, follow messages in the forums you wanted to, leave messages for others, both public and private and move on to another system.

A few of the more advanced BBS in the local area (I was in Lexington, KY at the time) offered a few online games and such, but again it was all text ASCII text-based in nature. A couple of the systems even offered a couple of dial in lines, such that a chat could be had between up to two users and the SysOp on the terminal at the same time. Some systems, running similar software could dial between one another and share content between them through some synchronization processes during off hours. It worked well most of the time. Oh, and in Lexington at the time, there was one mega system – Transy ran a BBS on the mainframe computer that could be access by any terminal something like up to six or eight dial in lines at the same time. Many is the hour spent putting off doing a late night stretch of coding for class the next morning by chatting with ten other people into the wee morning hours.

Oh, and yeah in case if you are wondering, with my uber-geeky nature I started up a BBS system myself. It had at least three or four different iterations during its limited lifetime, though I suppose the theme was most often technical and/or fantasy (both literature and gaming) in nature and the name using including GateMaster’s something. I ran a variety of systems, including Wildcat, PCBoard, and Renegade – all of which were DOS based and ran from command line. My first setup ran on what was labeled a laptop – but really was more like a small, heavy, and almost portable PC. It was running on two HD floppy drives and actually built up a good following. Imagine entire years of conversation being stored on single 1.44 megabyte floppy compared today where we can barely store a document of any size in that space. My ultimate was when I got up to having a second line at some point while still in college but when I moved off campus.

There there was NightWatcher, that got really popular because of multiple line support and at much better data rates that what the Transy system offered. It also had plenty of games, like a trivia and maybe poker, running all the time and regular chats with plenty of time. And then there started to be telnet and such out to other systems and before too much longer, the rest of the world figured out how much fun we geeks were having and starting to get on this thing we now call the information highway. Of course, it was made easier and the non-geeks could get on there too.

Because of the smaller number of users of such, the nature was always much more intimate. Like I said, more long time friends come out of those times and connections then just about any other for me. Those were the days… And if you really think about it, it was the original social network for the digital age and proceeded MySpace and Facebook by eons in computer timing.

It occurs to me, thinking back, my first real job after college was setting up RS-232 communications between machines and where did I learn that stuff? Well, while in college, but not in class. No, it was largely self-taught to make all this connectivity stuff work and do funky things with it. And that was also the contract job after that and so I owe a debt of gratitude to the experience.

** – Image is the logo for Wildcat BBS (WINS) system.

2 Replies to “BBS Days Recalled”

  1. I was also around during those days. I remember some BBS’s running daisy chained CD ROMs for downloading games, images, documents, etc. This was in 93-94, right after the 56k modem came out, even had the quintessential US Robotics 56k. Ran a Renegade BBS in my day. Sadly, my current position was actually acquired, in part at least, because of my knowledge of BBS’s. My company actually runs a BBS for people to dial into and upload files that don’t have high speed data and FTP access.

  2. Thanks for bringing back the memories! PCBoard was my go-to on DOS. I had one running on a MacPlus with 20 MB external HD for awhile but can’t remember the BBS software it used. The linking was usually done through FIDONET. It allowed not only the sharing of files from one BBS to another, but email for users! It was too expensive for me to maintain two lines back then so I didn’t keep things up and running consistently… I needed that line to get on other BBSes!

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