ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Primary Sources —

I have a Google alert set up to tell me when media discusses Bulletin Board Systems. What can I say, I like to be on the cutting edge.

People often cite BBSes in two main areas: discussing China, and as a reference of how we don’t do things that way anymore.

One of the articles that came by recently was about a company that provides internet connections to fast-food restaurants. Well and good. Somewhere in the middle there is what tripped off my scanner:

“They grew up across the street from one another in Waconia, west of the Twin Cities, playing baseball and football together. In 1994, when they were 14, they started an online bulletin-board service and called it Black Hole BBS. The bulletin board caught on, boasting 4,000 registered users…In 1996, they plugged a game server into a T-1 broadband line in Dave’s bedroom, changed their name to Black Hole Internet and became an ISP. For the first time, they saw more cash coming in than going out…While their peers flipped burgers, they operated the ISP through high school and college, and the company’s revenue passed six figures. After Perrill graduated from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in 2003 with an MBA, they changed the name to BHI to attract more business customers.”

OK! Black Hole BBS in Minnesota (612 area code, which I know by heart). By then going to, which is a site of BBS numbers and information I’ve put together from hundreds of sources, I see a bunch of entries down there:

612-442-2382 Black Hole BBS (1996) John Perrill
612-442-5635 Black Hole BBS, The Black Hole(1994-1996) John Perrill Wildcat
612-442-5682 The Black Hole, The Black Hole BBS(1994-1996) Wildcat
612-442-6363 Black Hole Bbs, The(1995) John Perrill
612-442-6429 Black Hole BBS(1995) John Perrill
612-442-6431 Black Hole BBS(1994-1995)

So from this, I now know the following additional bits of information:

There was definitely a BBS named “The Black Hole” in Minnesota.
There was a multi-line BBS named “The Black Hole”.
It ran Wildcat! software at some point.
The official listed name of the sysop is John Perrill.

Now, the name listed in the article is Dave Perrill, 27. Assuming he did start the black hole BBS when he was 14, that means he would have started it in the 1993-1994 period. Within a year it was multi-line, running Wildcat, which costs some bucks, and in fact the whole thing costs bucks. The rest of the article mentions the father in a different context:

“BHI’s interest in fast-food restaurants isn’t accidental. Perrill’s father, John Perrill, Sr., also an entrepreneur, started Wand Corp., a company that installs computerized cash registers for fast-food restaurants. Perrill Sr. is a minority investor in BHI, and BHI shares office space with Wand.”

So even though Dad’s listed as a minor player, he was major enough back then to be listed as the main Sysop of the BBS while his son wasn’t.

So, what’s the point of this? Primary sources. By yanking in these old BBS lists like I’ve been doing, I was able to do a minor amount of checking on the history of this BBS mentioned, see the family involved, and know what kind of software they were running. This is by taking what’s out there or maybe what’s not so readily available, collating, adding it together, and there’s a little more knowledge.

There’s nothing sinister or bad in saying it’s all your bag and dad was just a minor player, of course. But it’s good to give the databases a workout, in my case, and every once in a while, it does have meaning. I’ve had people claim to be the “first”, claim to have made something they ultimately didn’t, found myself in the middle of a battle that was 15 years dead, but when the documentary and my sites came along, all the old bad blood rushed back like it was yesterday.

I’m not being superlative, either. I have had multiple threats of being sued over publically available information being up on my site, and I’ve had phone calls and intense conversations with people, dredging up who-said-what and nobody involved was calm about it.

Primary sources are gold. They help track down, if not the truth, a context that the truth might be found in. And I’m big on the truth.

Send me your crap.

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