Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Bulletin board system
A bulletin board system or BBS is a computer system running software that allows users to dial into the system over a phone line and, using a terminal program, perform functions such as downloading software and data, uploading data, reading news, and exchanging messages with other users. During their heyday (from the late 1970s to the late 1990s), many BBSes were run as a hobby free of charge by the "SysOp" (system operator), while other BBSes charged their users a subscription fee for access.
Bulletin board systems were in many ways a precursor to the modern form of the World Wide Web and other aspects of the Internet. BBSes were a highly social phenomenon and were used for meeting people and having discussions in message boards as well as for publishing articles, downloading software, playing games and many more things using a single application. The BBS was also a local phenomenon, as one had to dial into a BBS with a phone line and would have to pay long distance charges for a BBS out of the local area. Thus, many users of a BBS lived in the same area and it was common for them to hold a BBS Meet, where everyone from the same board would gather and meet face to face.
The world's largest BBS was MBnet (1994–2002), located in Finland. MBnet ran PCBoard and had the most licensed nodes of any BBS in the world, 1000. The world's largest free BBS was The Gaming Center, at 40 licensed nodes.
With the original 110– and 300 baud modems of the early 1980s, BBSes were painfully slow, but speed became acceptable with the introduction of 1200 bit/s modems in and around 1985, and this led to a substantial increase in popularity. The lack of autodial and autoanswer capabilities in many 110-300 bit/s modems was also an obstacle to their use in unattended BBS installations.
Most of the information was presented using ordinary text or ANSI art, though some offered graphics, particularly after the rise in popularity of the GIF image format. Such use of graphics taxed available bandwidth, which in turn propelled demand for faster modems. Towards the early 1990s, the BBS industry became so popular that it spawned a monthly magazine, Boardwatch , which devoted extensive coverage and listings to international BBSs. In addition, a major monthly magazine, "Computer Shopper", carried a list of BBSes along with a brief abstract of each of their offerings.
Before commercial Internet access became common, networks of BBSes provided regional and international e-mail and message bases. Some even provided gateways by which members could send/receive e-mail to/from the Internet. Elaborate schemes allowed users to download binary files, search gopherspace, and interact with distant programs, all using plaintext e-mail. Most BBS networks were not linked in realtime. Instead, each would dial up the next in line, and/or a regional hub, at preset intervals to exchange files and messages. The largest BBS network was Fidonet, which is still widely used outside of the United States.
However, with the rise of the Internet in the middle/late 1990s BBSes rapidly declined in popularity in the west. However, BBSes have gained considerable increase in popularity since the end of 1990s in China mainland and Taiwan. Several largest BBS sites once had tens of thousands of online users at any time, such as SMTH,YTHT, etc. However, those BBSes located in China have been limited on access or closed since 2004.
Several BBS systems connected directly to the Internet, removing the necessity of direct dial-up and consequently attracting a more geographically-diverse user base. Most of these systems ran on derivations of a free code package called Citadel. A few are still extant (as of 2004).
Some general purpose bulletin board systems had special levels of access that were given to those who paid extra money or knew the sysop personally. BBSs that charged money usually had something special to offer their users such as door games, a large user base, or pornography. While many pay BBSes had pornography, some of the largest BBSs charged users merely for discussion boards. Pay BBSes such as The WELL and Echo NYC (both of which exist to this day) were admired for their tightly-knit communities and quality discussion forums.
Some BBSs, called elite boards, were exclusively used for distributing pirated software. These BBSes often had multiple modems and phone lines, allowing several users to upload and download files at once. Most elite BBSes used some form of new user verification, where new users would have to apply for membership and attempt to prove that they weren't a law enforcement officer or a lamer. The largest elite boards accepted users by invitation only.
Today, BBSing survives as a niche hobby for those who enjoy running BBSes and those users who remember BBSing as an enjoyable pastime. Many BBSes are now accessible through telnet and offer free email accounts. Some BBSes are Web-enabled and have a Web-based user interface, allowing people who have never used a BBS before to use one easily via their favorite web browser. For those even more nostalgic for the true BBS experience, one can use DOSBox and its modem emulation via TCP/IP to dial up Telnet BBS's with 1980's and 1990's era modem software, like Telix, Q-Modem and ProComm+.
A website known as Textfiles.com serves as a collection point of historical data involving the history of the BBS. This site has also produced a documentary available for sale that includes interviews with well known people from the BBS era.
Much of the "Shareware" and "Free software" movements were started via sharing software through BBSes. A notable example was Phil Katz's PKARC (and later PKZIP, using the same algorithm that WinZip now uses); also Wolfenstein 3D and Doom from id Software and many Apogee games.
A typical BBS has:
- A computer
- One or more modems
- One or more phone lines
- A BBS software package
- A sysop - system operator
- Some BBSes allow telnet access over the Internet using a telnet server and a virtual FOSSIL driver:
- COM/IP (Windows)
- GameSrv/NetFOSS (Windows)
- NetModem (Windows)
- SIO/VMODEM (OS/2)
The BBS software usually provides:
- Login screen
- Welcome screen
- One or more message bases
- File download area
- File upload area (sometimes)
- Online games (usually single player or only a single active player at a given time)
- A doorway to third-party online games
- Usage auditing capabilities
- Multi-user chat (more common in later multi-line or telnettable BBSes)
- Internet email (more common in later Internet-connected BBSes)
A BBS will often have mail (or mailer) software to interface with a network, such as Fidonet. Commonly used mailers include (or have included):
- BinkleyTerm (widely ported to different Operating Systems)
- Seadog (very old!)
- Sinister Offline Mail Reader
- Portal of Power
- Demon Roach Underground, a popular hacker BBS and former home of CULT OF THE DEAD COW
- The Gaming Center, a large Florida-based free BBS
- GROGGS, a popular BBS in the University of Cambridge
- KaraNet, the biggest BBS in Austria
- Monochrome, a popular BBS in City University, London
- TRN, a popular BBS in Phoenix, Arizona
- Rusty n Edie's BBS, raided by the FBI in 1993 and sued by Playboy in 1997
- UNaXcess, a popular BBS in the University of Manchester
- BBS Corner
- Sysop's Corner
- The BBS Organization File Archives
- Lanius Corporation Home Page
- The Maximus Home Page (third-party)
- Telegard BBS Official Site
- BBBS Bulletin Board System
- A Documentary Film on BBSing
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