As I progressed farther down the path of the BBS Documentary project, I started to consider where to take the textfiles.com project next. I’d been running it for nearly 8 years, of which 3-4 of them were involving the documentary itself. Obviously, the project should continue the process of providing history, historical context, and other related information about bulletin boards and subjects tangental to them, but what else? And how could I keep up my energy?
The original idea I had was to start something called “Textfiles University”, which would provide a framework of self-teaching classes and lectures related to different parts of BBS culture. But there were two major problems with this. First of all, it would be nice to have it be TEXTFILES.EDU or otherwise some sort of accredited organization… a basically impossible goal. The other was that even though I would take a lot of personal humor and enjoyment out of the “university” role-playing and front that would be provided, I would eventually run into way too many roadblocks and issues. Most of these would be when more established organizations and individuals would wonder why I was putting on an “act” when I should just indicate what I really am: a person who does history. A historian.
Another major issue that was starting to creep on me was resources. I’ve run the TEXTFILES.COM out of pocket expenses since its inception, and the key to making that work was the fact that since it was, completely, textfiles, it wasn’t a big hit for bandwidth. The files compressed well, the system flowed smoothly; it just all worked very well on that level. But then came audio.textfiles.com.
There had been other non-textfile sites on textfiles.com; I certainly wasn’t going to play the game of “if it’s not text, it’s garbage”, because the world wasn’t 100 percent text at any point; there were always programs and attempts at images and everything else that didn’t fit into ASCII. I started adding lots of subsites to textfiles.com to accomodate that, including sites for pdf files and old Apple II magazines and so on. It was always going to grow in that direction.
But audio.textfiles.com broke everything, because every mp3 or ogg file that was being created or which I pulled from the past was huge. Very huge. While most textfiles topped out at 100 or 200 kilobytes, even the most basic of the mp3 files were going into the megabytes, perhaps the tens of megabytes. Disk space has gotten spectacularly cheap, but connections have still been somewhat expensive once you start talking about a lot of large files being transferred constantly. Textfiles.com was now outgrowing its T-1. A T-1, I again point out, that has come directly out of my pocket.
There are solutions, of course; limit myself to just textfiles, keep the collection “private”, look into better “hosting solutions”, and all the rest of it. And yes, I could do that and it would probably solve the problem today. Or for a few months. But somewhere down the line, I will inevitably add another bit of history, some extra bits of information and collections, and something else will burst at the seams. Maybe it’ll be buying another hard drive, or finding that I need a more powerful computer, or finding that the hosting solution I am with doesn’t like the content of the site. Or anything else. Obviously, this whole thing needs to go to what the “X-treme” sports announcers prefer to call “The Next Level”.
I loathe advertising. I do not like it in general, and when I see it used on websites, it just ruins me internally. I am glad there is software to deaden a lot of the experience for me via my browser, but I see a site get slowly taken over by advertising and promotions and all the rest of the foolishness associated with it, and you see the whole thing become a horrible mess. I truly hate it. I will not do it on any of my sites.
I receive fan mail. Not a whole lot, but enough that I think it’s above the norm for a website. People tell me how much they enjoy going through textfiles.com unfettered by passwording systems, click-throughs, banners, interstitials, flash animations, and all the rest of the crap that has been strung over the online experience like marine netting. People come, they see what they want, they get it, they leave. Or they browse for hours, seeing what comes up, and then walk away with something they didn’t expect to. And they come in large numbers: over 300,000 people visited textfiles.com in December of 2004. Three hundred thousand!
Obviously this site is wanted. Obviously, it is something worth doing. Obviously, my original plans to do this for a few nice years back in 1998 are out the window and I’m pretty much committed for a good time to come. So, how do I make sure it survives?
I have decided to create a non-profit organization called “The BBS History Foundation”.
The goal of this organization will be to collect as much BBS history as possible, as well as tangental information related to subjects that drove BBSes. There are general computer history organizations and there are general online organizations, but I am aiming specifically at the BBS story, the BBS culture, and the related items from that time. By being non-profit, I can separate the work related to textfiles.com from the rest of my life, and I can bring in others to do work and help with projects without doing what I do now, which is basically everything. Most importantly, I can take donations; donations of bandwidth, of hardware, of equipment related to scanning and capturing information, and I can take monetary donations. It can all go towards running the site, not get stuck in some scary sort of half-Jason-half-textfiles.com bank account that I pull out of on a whim. Becoming a non-profit is not difficult, but becoming a tax-exempt one is, but I’m going to take a shot at it.
It means, ultimately, that I will lose some of the control of what I’ve been doing for so long. But on the other hand, it means that this whole project will partially take on a life of its own, will surprise me, and even more importantly, will grow beyond one guy and his basement. I think this needs to be done. I want to do it right. And I promise you, I intend to go through many phases of feeling about this, but none of them should be “regret”.
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