ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Does the BBS Guy Run a BBS? —

It’s natural to ask if I myself run some example of this very thing I collect so much information on. You’d be suspicious of a critic that doesn’t “like” movies or a music historian who never at least tried to pick up an instrument.

When I was 12 and first getting into modems and collecting textfiles, I dreamed, like most kids dream of owning a car, of running my own BBS. I knew that I would name it after a prototype computer graphics film being done at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) called “The Works”. Even by the time I’d heard of it, the project had been languishing and eventually collapsed, but there was something about the small amount of information I’d seen on it and the captivating images of strange robotic bugs that made me decide this was what my dream BBS would be named.

I was so sure that the BBS would be named “The Works” that I started pre-labelling my floppy disks that held textfiles with “The Works Disk #10” and so on. This went on for years, until 1986, when my BBS finally got its own phone line and joined the somewhat exclusive club of 914 BBSes. I tried running every bit of software I could, from Colossus to Fidonet to PC-Board, and more. Eventually, however, I decided that there was no better choice than “Waffle“. Only problem was, Waffle BBS was written for the Apple II and I owned an IBM PC. So, I started writing my own version, which I called Ferret BBS, or FBBS.

Like any piece of software written by a sixteen-year-old, Ferret BBS was a mish-mash of weird ideas and bizzare implementations. If you typed “Control-V”, it removed all the vowels in the line. When people logged in and it sat at the password prompt, it would play the “Jeopardy” theme… but only for me.

I ran the BBS from 1986 to 1988, when the move to college and a massive phone bill took The Works down. But while in college, I was contacted by a young sprite named Dave, who offered to bring the BBS back up at his house. I wasn’t sure he’d do it, but he did, and from 1989 to about 1994, Dave ran the BBS during its most popular period. He messed up the Ferret BBS code really badly, but he also got it to be a Cult of the Dead Cow node and earned it a reputation as one of the places to go to for textfiles. Keeping my principles, the BBS continued to be “Textfiles Only”. He also had the opportunity I never had, to run Waffle as written by the original author. When he asked if we should turn our back on years of our own code, I said “We were trying to duplicate Waffle, and here it is! Put it up!”

After Dave went off to College and himself lost track of the BBS, it was taken over by Grendel/Iskra, a user of the original Works and the later Dave Works. He ran it on and off for a good number of years, insisting that the Works be online for its 10th anniversary.

The Works, believe it or not, lives on, and is a fully connectable ssh-only BBS. Just ssh over to “” and log in as “waffle”. It’s now run by a nice kid named Owen (Autojack) who holds his mantle as the Fourth Works Sysop with pride.

The thing is, there’s all sorts of stories like this for the many thousands of BBSes that rose and fell in the last 25 years. Many of them are lost forever, but others are taking up the torch and are writing their stories down. I’ve collected some of them but others are spread throughout webpages out there.

In case anyone’s wondering, the documentary will have a affiliated BBS, but if the way of recent message boards are any example (here and elsewhere), I am not overflowing with anticipation as to what it will end up like. But this is the way of things now, no sense hiding from them.

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