ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Back and Forth —

from Don Nguyen
cc Wilson Rothman ,
date Wed, Jul 15, 2009 at 5:37 PM
subject BBS pornography in 1979

My name is Don Nguyen, and I work at Gizmodo, a gadget and technology website. We are currently working on features about technology thirty years ago, and one of the issues we want to look in to is the state of pornography on BBS ‘networks’ in 1979 and the very early 1980s. I came across your great documentary about BBS, and was wondering if there is any information you could provide us with that would help for the article.

Thank You,
Don Nguyen, Intern

from Jason Scott
to Don Nguyen
date Wed, Jul 15, 2009 at 6:05 PM
subject Re: BBS pornography in 1979

I am happy to be thought of as a go-to guy for BBS history, but I
can’t see how the article won’t be written in an exploitative way that
will demean users of BBSes for a quick chuckle. I think I’ll pass.
Keep me in mind for more uplifting aspects of that rich history.

from Wilson Rothman
cc Don Nguyen
date Wed, Jul 15, 2009 at 6:15 PM
subject Re: BBS pornography in 1979

Hi Jason – I’d like to compliment you on that succinct and insultingly reductive reply to my assistant’s genuine request for the information and expertise in your possession.

Let me know if you’d like to try again. Maybe you’d like to write the piece yourself? You’d be joining the ranks of guest bloggers ranging from astronauts to chefs, from Bill Nye the Science Guy to Adam Savage from MythBusters. Do you think all of them felt exploited when they willingly contributed their wisdom to Gizmodo?

Seriously, we’d love your input on this, if you want to share. And if you want to broaden it beyond the thrilling subject of sex, I’m all ears.


Wilson Rothman
Features Editor
Twitter: @wjrothman

from Jason Scott
to Wilson Rothman
date Wed, Jul 15, 2009 at 6:34 PM
subject Re: BBS pornography in 1979

My answer remains no.

from Wilson Rothman
to Jason Scott
date Wed, Jul 15, 2009 at 6:47 PM
subject Re: BBS pornography in 1979

Suit yourself. It’s too bad, because we really like working with people who are experts in their field, who are promoting their own projects. We reach 10 million people worldwide every month, and we’re happy to direct that attention to works we deem worthy. Your documentary seems like something people would actually want to know about — shame you’re not interested in promoting it.

I’m really just sad that you came into this dialog with such a sour attitude towards us. I certainly don’t deserve it. Can I ask, for academic reasons, what causes you to be so negative? Maybe it’s a misunderstanding that we can clear up?


(Conversation Ends.)

Categorised as: Uncategorized

Comments are disabled on this post


  1. Michael Kohne says:

    Jason, I didn’t see anything in your replies that sounded like you had anything against Gizmodo. Did I miss something? It just sounded like you didn’t want to be the source for a story about BBS porn. I can’t fault your reasons, and I don’t see why Wilson’s so defensive about it. I mean, I can understand him wanting you as a source, but he took ‘no’ as a little bit of an insult.

    Wilson: calm down. You’re doing good stuff, Jason just doesn’t want in on this one. It’ll be OK.

  2. Chris Barts says:

    I wonder how much worse their coverage will be, now that they have one fewer source to go to.

  3. Erin says:

    Out of all the aspects they can focus on, why porn? Oh yeah, because sex sells and generates hits.

    Maybe if these guys actually took a moment to watch some of your documentary or read through your web site, they’d realize there was more to BBSes than porn. Much, much, much more.

    Thumbs up, Jason.

  4. Michael Kohne says:

    I imagine that if they really want to write a good article (which they probably do), they’ll find good sources. There were plenty of folks into the BBS scene back in the day, and I’m sure some of them are willing to talk about the porn. Jason’s just the ‘obvious’ go-to guy, he’s hardly the only guy.

  5. Dustin Mitchell says:

    I’m not sure why you saw fit to reproduce this conversation so proudly here. Had I written it, I would instead be emailing Wilson to apologize.

    You have a perfectly good reason to say no to this particular request, but I don’t see why you have to be nasty about it, nor why you have to curtly turn down Wilson’s offer of a forum to share your views.

    What is the point in collecting all of this memorabilia and expertise if you’re not going to share it with anyone else?

  6. Herb M. says:

    That Gizmodo: all class, baby! Observe how they read the “sour attitude” into a brief, factual and polite (if strained) reply, then protest that they “don’t deserve it.” To be fair, they could have written back with an outline of their intentions to demonstrate that they weren’t planning to be exploitative – or maybe are unaware of the implicit links between the Internet, pornography and exploitation?

    Lesson to you, O Brave and Wise Internets: don’t be surprised when a man is not eager to debase his work – and the work that so many others have entrusted to him – for you, even if you get a lot of pageviews. (And even if he’s willing to present at ROFLCon.)

    Thank you for doing the right thing, Jason, and respecting all those whose history you find, carry and share. I know you’ve talked about BBS porn before, but I also know you’ve kept it in context and not exploited it for shock value.

    Also, thank you for not apologizing to this guy.

  7. SamR says:

    What is the backstory on this? DO you have something against Gizmodo or something? Maybe the whole thing is being taken out of context but from what I can see of it, it looks like you are being a tremendous douche bag.

  8. max.elliott says:

    For those of you who are having trouble with this, imagine the following cases:

    1) Ask GM for stats on rapes that occur in their cargo vans for an article you’re writing.

    2) Call Marriott about their Mormon connections and how they relate to the bibles in the hotel rooms.

    3) Ask a master carpenter to comment about the BDSM that happens in wooden beds.

    The request itself contains an insulting assumption that BBS’s were best used for distributing porn. One could simply watch the documentary for the information…. “BBS’s were not solely for trading naked pictures.”

    That being said, I’m off to find those links to some online doorgames, I’m feeling nostalgic.

  9. The Warezwolf says:

    I think there are three ways to reply to a request like that if you’re not up for it.

    1. Delete without reply.
    2. Reply in the negative without getting into just why.
    3. Reply in the negative and specify exactly why.

    Virtually everyone will say they want #3, but many times what they really want in rejection is #2.

  10. Grimmtooth says:

    Add me to the ranks of the nonplussed, as well. Granted it’s been a long time since I dropped reading Giz, but it was because there was too much in that firehose to deal with, rather than them being dicks or something.

    Now, Vallywag … different story.

  11. Joe Crawford says:

    I am astonished that a search for “bbs documentary” on google yields no results. It was released in 2005 and yet Gizmodo has been existence since 2002.

    To those who feel Jason answered with an excess of sarcasm, how is it that you read this blog and yet can manage to seem shocked by how the man expresses his opinions.

    I find it entirely appropriate that Gizmodo found Jason’s reply “insultingly reductive” — since they, and all the Gawker blogs are very special experts on insulting reductiveness.

  12. ben says:

    I would love to learn about this subject tho. But if the sole article on BBSes from this period will be on porn it’s clear that this is a poor deal.

  13. polpo says: is the article in question. Sounds like they probably wanted to know if one could get porn from BBSes in 1979. If there was any it was probably of the ASCII art variety. If I recall correctly, there was some kinda risque stuff in the printouts shown at the beginning of the ANSI segment of the BBS Documentary.

  14. phoenix says:

    The problem here is, Jason replied “I think I’ll pass” and it could’ve/should’ve been left at that. But then Wilson replied “Let me know if you’d like to try again. ” as if he gave the wrong answer.

    If he doesn’t want to write about porn, he doesn’t have to. That doesn’t make him a sourpuss. Because Gizmodo calls, you’re obligated to grovel at their feet?

  15. SamR says:

    >>Wow, Gizmodo are dicks.

    Are you being sarcastic? If anyone there was acting like a dick it was Jason.

  16. l.m.orchard says:

    @SamR: “Are you being sarcastic? If anyone there was acting like a dick it was Jason.”

    You’re new here, aren’t you?

    Not that Jason’s a dick, but he’s had to deal with plenty – and an article about porn on BBSes in 1979 has dick written all over it.

    What you read up there is Jason in “cordial” mode. Journalists shouldn’t expect sources to be friendly, nor should they presume to bitch when sources are “sour”.

  17. DBL says:

    Jason said no and his stated reasons why were bang on — no need to apologise for not agreeing to exploitation, what has this culture come to. Then, even worse, Gizmodo followed up the clear rejection by whining about it — twice. A more ungraceful response to a rejection would be difficult to perform, and Gizmodo showed themselves to essentially have no class, if that were not already obvious from their planned subject matter.

  18. The funny thing is that the first BBS was in 1978 so while there may have been firsts in transferring grainy scans of playboy images in 1979 it will not have been a serious source of nudie pixels for boys.

  19. robohara says:

    I think my favorite part was the fact that “Jesus” was CC’ed on a thread about vintage porn.

  20. Chuckles says:

    The key to understanding Jason’s reaction is King Of Kong.

    Jason’s beef with Kong, in a nutshell, is that the subjects of the film, on seeing it, are going to feel like they got played. Not just that they ended up looking silly, but that the filmmaker cheated to make them look even sillier than they had any reason to expect.

    If one reflects on the Kong story when reading the above exchange, one will be struck by a premonition: Anyone from the scene who involves himself in this story is going to regret it. Imagine their excited faces, like a kid on Christmas morning, when the story is published. They eagerly start reading, their hopeful grins enduring nervously through the first sour notes. Cheerfully they carry on, figuring that the lede has to be punchy, but the meat of the piece will redeem it. Nobody’s eager to realize they’ve been had, after all, and they’ll fight resist that conclusion for as long as they can.

    Which won’t be very long. Then come the long faces, the rueful shaking head, and finally the old bottle of cheap bourbon, wobbly hands pouring a neat double.

    “Jason you asshole,” says Interview Subject #12 the next (and last) time they speak, “I spent hours explaining the history of FIDONet and gizmodo quotes you calling me a child pornographer.”

  21. Michael Kohne says:

    OK, can some one tell me why the Gizmodo guy got so insulted by Jason’s original response? Was it simply the implication that the article wouldn’t be very good? I just can’t figure out why the heck he got so mad! I mean, really, you are writing about porn. When has anyone in the mainstream media NOT done so in an exploitive way? It’s not like Gizmodo is a bastion of hard hitting, in-depth journalism. They do short pieces with quick overviews of a topic. Nothing wrong with that (it’s why I sometimes read them), but you can’t do a piece like that about porn and give it any depth or context.

    So what’s the beef on the Gizmodo side?

  22. Mirka23 says:

    What I love is that the assistant was so unnerved by this unexpected rejection that he immediately escalated the communication to his boss, who promptly stepped in. When the answer remained no, rather than explain how they think they will actually write a good article, the guy resorts to the “how could you pass up this amazing opportunity for self-promotion?” argument that so many people in the news media think will work on EVERYONE.

    Maybe that’s why Jason felt the need to reproduce the entire thread of conversation – it starts out with them getting insulted because he declined their offer, and they try to turn it around by insulting his integrity. Why do they think that’s going to work? Very unprofessional journalistic behavior.

    P.S. I scrolled through the article that polpo linked to and when I got to the end I was a little surprised by what I thought was a bit of gay ’70s porn included at the end. A moment later I realized it was an ad for Heineken. Here’s a screengrab, in case the ad changes:

  23. Church says:

    Late to this one, but I’m intrigued. I’ve no love for Giz, but the opportunity to write an article that they could have headlined “Pr0n B4 teh Net” or somesuch, while actually exploring the various offerings (porn, sure, but also interactive games, fidonet and whathaveyou) might be interesting.

    But then, I’m me, and Jason is Jason.

  24. nimbus says:

    I will be VERY interested to read the piece when it’s done, in any case (because the topic interests be and because it will be interesting to see if JS’s concerns are realized.)