ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The 21st Century Sysop —

I am a very big fan of “answering natural questions”, that is, as you take actions and do projects, people’s minds naturally gravitate towards information holes in your work and want them filled. They see artwork you drew and want to know what you used to do it. They hear you built a car that looks like a giant skull, and they want to see a picture.

This is the reason there’s now a publically accessible Photo Gallery on the documentary website; people want to know who I interviewed and what those people look like. I’ve been working on that aspect of the site since the project started, but I was hesitant to release it to the public since the pictures, all nice digital camera ones, will always look better than video, and I didn’t want to mislead anyone. Now that the entries are including video screen grabs, at least I can rest better. The entries also have my own personal memories of the process of interviewing the person, and support files relevant to them, if any. This, I think, is the way any documentary about interesting people should be presented. Give interested people what they want without forcing things on people who don’t care: If people just want to see the DVD and don’t care about how the DVD was made and my thoughts on making in, they can.

So along that line of reasoning, I knew it was inevitable that people, having seen a documentary that lauds the power and the wonder of BBSes, would wonder where my BBS was. Where’s the “BBS guy’s BBS”? So in a pre-emptive move, I’ve created one. Unlike my previous BBS “The Works”, this one has a pretty simple name: “The BBS Documentary BBS”.

The URL to information about it is at But the BBS is not actually at that URL. It is an NNTP server, running INN, located on one of my servers. I always knew that if I ever ran another BBS it would be an INN one, but for people unfamiliar with this whole situation, it probably seems a little weird; I’ll explain.

INN, if you hadn’t heard of it before, is one of the more popular programs for running Usenet feeds. When you hit a news server, it is actually INN (or Diablo, or Leafnode, or other similar packages) and not “Usenet” that you’re connecting to. Similar, I suppose, to how you’re actually connecting to Apache or IIS or HTTPd instead of “The Web”. INN has been around as a package since 1992, when it was introduced to the world at large by Rich Salz, maintained for a year, and then taken over by David Barr and later the Internet Software Consortium. Usenet, as an entity, dates back to 1979, although things didn’t start getting hot until 1981-1982. Again, the advantages of Internet come through since it’s very easy to find Internet history but not so easy to find BBS history.

Usenet, and therefore INN, has had to deal with over a decade of the worst abuse of any collaborative medium outside of the internet itself; Usenet contains very little penalty for being damaging or destructive in conversation or interaction with the system. Because of this, INN is as close to bulletproof as one tends to get and represents one of the more hardened pieces of code relevant to the task it has been given to accomplish, that is, running message boards. The INN documentation is very helpful in creating a “local groups only” news server, that is, basically, a one-site message board.

As an additional bonus, all that nice networking is built right into the product, so if in the future I want to have multiple machines do the duty of the BBS, I can turn those hooks on and start adding other machines. A nice but unlikely feature.

Along with being so popular and tested so well, NNTP has also been at the recieving end of a lot of work on the client side. Newsreaders abound in every platform. Even programs like Outlook Express have support for newsgroups, and with nice threading and bold-i-fying and all the rest of those navigational tricks we’ve learned in the last quarter century. If you want to be able to read these messages with speed and ease, then there’s a program out there for you. There are even programs for pulling messages out of an NNTP server and HTMLifying them, making them a feed, or otherwise aiming the messages into whole new places. Should a need arise for such cool little gim-gaws, I will be prepared for that too.

What I lose is a file section, title page, and all the other aspects of a BBS. There’s a little of that on the webpage dedicated to the server, so I think people will at least get the ground rules and other “hey everybody” kinds of messages on that site. But yes, according to the definition of many, many folks, I am not running a BBS, I am running a broken Usenet server. So be it.

How this will all pan out in the ultimate arena, when people start flooding back onto the documentary site from whatever announcements and trailers become available, I don’t know. Maybe it’ll be soundly rejected by the audience. Maybe it’ll become the biggest thing ever. Or maybe it’ll flame out quickly, becoming a ghost town after what seemed like endless boom times. Either way, I did what I could.

I answered the natural question.

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