A BBS is generally the most popular online place
for people to get new software, exchange ideas and information,
or just socialize


A wired world

There's no escaping it--we're living in a wired world. Some of us try to ignore it, some of us try to cope as best as we can, and there're always a few who seem to be able to keep up with whatever the information age throws at them. If one looks at this group of people, one fact stands out--they almost always got their start on a BBS; and notwithstanding the Internet and the World Wide Web, still spend a significant part of their online lives on BBSs.

The question now is, just what is a BBS? And why should we care what it is?

Reach out and touch someone

A BBS (Bulletin Board Service) is a "place" in cyberspace where you can "meet" people with similar interests, and hold forth on your favorite topics. This is accomplished with a computer connected up to a modem, with appropriate software installed, where people can dial in with their computers and modems to leave messages for others, and read the messages which have been left there by other users of the BBS--in analogy to the familiar bulletin boards that hang on walls and where you can tack messages for all. The individual who operates the BBS is known as the SysOp (short for SYStem Operator) and it is he/she who has the responsibility of ensuring that the BBS runs smoothly. Or runs at all, for that matter.

There may be several discussion areas, called forums, within the BBS where different topics of interest can be discussed. These can range from discussion of computing topics (which is to be expected, since you essentially have to have a computer and a modem before you can access a BBS) to the not-so-obvious, like exchanging new recipes, debating burning issues of the day, and reviews of films/plays. What makes this different from, say, a magazine, is that you are reviewing the movie, it's going to be read by your friends, and they'll reply to you with their reactions and their reviews as well. You're both a publisher and a consumer of information here.

A BBS is a kind of network (to use the term very loosely) consisting of people who're usually, though not necessarily, from the same geographical location. It's also very often the first step into data communications for the majority of its members. This is because…

  1. even the small minority of BBSs, which ask you to pay something towards maintenance or for downloading software (most of them are free), are much less expensive than a commercial online service
  2. almost all BBSs encourage the kind of "small community" feeling which is especially effective in making an inexperienced user feel at home.

This would help in understanding why a BBS is generally the most popular online place for people to get new software, exchange ideas and information, or just socialize. The unique characteristic of a BBS is the strong sense of community it fosters in its members, mainly because of the last mentioned activity. This rests on your using the BBS for something as essentially human as chatting, gossiping, call it what you will. It also has the important effect of making the technology you're using much less intimidating--and that can be a vital survival skill in an increasingly wired world.

Even though BBSs are not household words yet, one can see a burgeoning growth in the population of BBSs and callers today. While, in the past, they're exclusively populated by the technological elite, that's not the case today and the relative newcomers typically outnumber the more seasoned users. However, these "veterans" are usually quite glad to be of help in orienting a newcomer which may not be the case in a large commercial service, or on the Internet. In this regard, a BBS can be viewed as an open electronic clubhouse where callers can share their experiences and seek answers to their queries, from removing a virus from their computer to getting on to the Information Superhighway.

Udhay Shankar N <udhay@pobox.com> is a Random Networking Enthusiast who collects interesting people.