An electronic bulletin board system; that is, a message database where people can log in and leave broadcast messages for others grouped (typically) into topic groups. The term was especially applied to the thousands of local BBS systems that operated during the pre-Internet microcomputer era of roughly 1980 to 1995, typically run by amateurs for fun out of their homes on MS-DOS boxes with a single modem line each.
Source: The Jargon File, version 4.4.7

1978: Ward Christenson and Randy Suess create the first personal computer bulletin board system. "Ward Christensen, member of a Chicago computer club, pieced together a
software program that allowed a Northstar Horizon CP/M personal computer
built by his friend, Randy Suess, to answer the telephone using a 110-bps
1984: Tom Jennings creates the FidoNet BBS network.
1985: Beginning of The WELL
1987: BIONIC Mailbox in Bielefeld
1991 - 1992: The first node of the ZaMir BBS network is set up in Zagreb.
1991: Beginning of The Thing
1992: 45'000 bulletin boards are in operation in the USA (src: Wired 1.04(external link), 1993)
1994: A ZaMir BBS node is set up in Sarajevo.

You remember those right? You had a modem on your computer and you would dial in and connect to my local phone # and leave messages and download files. This was the best you could get before the internet came along. I would get about 40 callers a day to my BBS. Pretty good actually, considering only one person could be on at a time. My first BBS ran at 300 baud. Do you know how slow that is? You know how slow your modem is and you hate it because it only runs at 56,400 baud. Yep thats the one. It is 188 times slower than your modem is.

My BBS called “The Secret Service” didn’t even have a good way of transferring files. I had to write my own entire upload/download system for BBS Express ST including support for Z-Modem. I wrote something I called FMail, which is a way to leave a message for someone with a file attached. This was about 9 years before microsoft thought about Outlook email with attachments.

Unlike the nascent internet, whose use was confined at the time to researchers and the military, BBSes were populist to their core, available to anyone who could afford the hefty $3,000 to $10,000 price tag for a computer. All it took to establish a BBS and become your own sysop was to install the software on a home PC with a modem and connect it to a phone line that remote users could dial into and leave messages.

Although board communication could be laborious, its nature changed in 1983 with the appearance of Fido, a protocol that allowed BBSes to communicate with one another to create a FidoNet for wider distribution of messages. Instead of posting a message to just one board, a user could post a message and have it fan out to hundreds or thousands of boards at a time.

In 1984, FidoNet had only 132 nodes; by 1995, the number had grown to more than 35,000 worldwide.

The idea that you could send a message and it would filter out to a thousand BBSes within a day or two was intoxicating to a person. It's easy now when people can send messages instantaneously. But at the time nobody thought this was something that was ever going to fall into the hands of regular people.

Around 1995, just as the mention of BBSes on an episode of Law & Order signaled the phenomenon's entry into pop culture, the reign of boards came to a crashing end. That's when the internet took hold and, like vinyl records and 8-track tapes, bulletin boards quickly faded to obscurity. Some BBS owners morphed their systems into the first internet service providers but most disappeared. Only a few hundred dialup BBSes still exist today.

Sources: link) link) - BBS History Timeline, by Frank Robbins

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Page last modified on Sunday 20 of July, 2008 19:25:12 CEST by 1.0.