From: King Jables To: Jason Scott Subject: BBS I know that you'll probably think think that I am a complete imbeceil for asking this, but I keep seeing the abbreviation "BBS" on your website. What exactly was a "BBS", and why should the advent of the internet have signalled it's demise? I mean, if people liked them so much then surely all the retroists out there could have continued them with legacy machines, right? But seriously, what was a BBS and what did it do? Yours perplexedly, Jables.
Jables, I get mail like yours occasionally, and I do sometimes wonder how people find my e-mail but don’t find all the rest of the material explaining BBSes or explaining what the whole thing was about. I get enough that it’s likely not a hoax and I’ve definitely gotten mail from people who are barely as old as the textfiles.com site itself, wanting to know about this history. So let’s quickly cover it.
BBS in this case stands for “Bulletin Board System”, although at one point people would use the term “Bulletin Board Service” when they were trying to make money at it. This quickly got shortened to BBS, an acronym which has at this point been overtaken as referring to Baumgartner Brand Schiltach aluminum car rims. This is part of why it’s so hard to search for auctions on Ebay or general webpages about the subject: it’s all about the rims now. But once, it was about these old computer systems.
In its most fundamental form, the BBS was simply a computer connected via a modem to a phone line. On the computer was software that, when it detected that someone was calling the modem, would pick up, connect, and then provide the calling person with a menu. From this menu you could post and read messages from other users, send or receive files, or play games.Â
Some people added more phone lines (and the ability of people on different lines to talk to each other), while others integrated their BBSes into other networks, like early Internet, or had their BBS pass around messages to other BBSes by calling them.
What happened to BBSes, especially as it looked like they’d be around in some form forever, was multi-threaded connection to the Internet, especially Trumpet Winsock, a program that allowed PPP (Point to Point Protocol) on Windows systems. Â With the availability of this and other programs to provide PPP and SLIP access for home computers, where connections to the Internet at large gave a world of abilities to machines previously tethered to single BBSes (or no network connection at all), BBSes were essentially smashed against the rocks. (The first three months of 1995, I have found, broke the BBS “Industry” in two.) This was all replaced with Internet businesses, be they websites, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or software developers, all aimed for the new new thing. BBSes, especially in business, were a taboo subject, as they represented the old guard, the old failures.
BBSes had, of course, the ability to be connected to via the Internet, but the capacity and abilities of the World Wide Web (or HTTP protocol) are very shiny, very new, and the needed growth and new userbase that would replace the older userbase drifting away simply wasn’t there. BBSes started a long fade that continues.
Of course, there are still many BBS-like things, like web forums or comment sections or anything else where the people reading a site can contribute by posting, and these conversations, jests and jousts now replace what BBSes once were. They’re different, sometimes better, often worse. But that’s what happened to them.
That’s about the best I could put it. I made a documentary about the BBSes and keep a site full of old BBS relics, and I occasionally speak about the subject. I think the time when they ruled the earth was fantastic. I miss it sometimes.
Categorised as: computer history
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