The Dial-Up BBS Revisited

August 30th, 2006 by Benj Edwards

RedWolf's BBS Computer, Circa 1994Most BBS enthusiasts know that the last outpost for BBSes has been, for some time now, through telnet on the Internet. There was a time, however, when when dial-up BBSes over analog phone lines were the rule, not the exception. And believe it or not, there are still a handful of BBSes out there that have not modernized and switched over to the 'Net. The only way you can get to them, though, is through an old fashioned analog phone modem, regular ole Ma Bell lines, and a little patience.

Visiting such old BBSes is incredible — it's like traveling back in time to the early-mid 1990s. Each BBS is a unique a time capsule, stocked with trinkets and ephemera from the period. On message boards, you'll find posts from 1994 about the O.J. Simpson trial and which player-made Doom levels are best. In file transfer sections you'll run across large archives of long-forgotten Windows 3.1 screen savers. In door sections (online games), you'll find abandoned TradeWars 2002 games, still in progress, that haven't been touched in eight years. And of course, the Ferrengi have completely taken over.

BBS Ghost TownThese few remaining dial-up BBSes understandably receive very few calls these days, so they tend to feel a little eerie and lonely, like digital ghost towns. Some of the message threads out there have been left hanging and incomplete, with the original post echoing like a thin, ghostly voice through time, still pleading for a response. In some cases, it's as if an entire online community was caught unawares, swallowed up, and perfectly preserved in Pompeii-like ash. Everything's there, in place…except the people. Perhaps analogies to the Mary Celeste would be more appropriate.

All this makes me wonder why the Sysops who own these BBSes keep them running with such little traffic. Did they just forget to turn off their machines in 1998 as the Internet finally swept away the traditional US BBS scene? Did the old Sysops die and nobody noticed that the automated machines were still running, undetected, in a dusty back room somewhere? The possibilities are incredibly compelling; they really stir the imagination. That's why finding such forgotten realms elicits a sense of discovery in me, like being an explorer discovering a long-lost temple in the overgrown jungles of Peru — all the more reason to give the old places a visit.

Time Travel, Vonage Style

Vonage LogoThe one thing that's kept me from revisiting these old BBSes, until now, is long distance phone charges. There used to be so many BBSes that you could always find a local one in your area code, but that hasn't been true since 1998. You'll have to scour the continent (courtesy of somewhat musty online BBS lists) looking for dial-up BBSes that are still running. Even then, you might be too late — often you'll find that the boards on the list have already been lost to the ages. And unless you're really lucky, the boards that do work are almost always in another state — hence the long distance problem.

Enter the solution: I've had phone service through Vonage for the last eight months. For those of you who don't know, Vonage is a VoIP-based phone service that gives you a dedicated phone line in any area code you wish (in the US), along with unlimited long distance to North America, incredibly cheap international call rates, call waiting, caller-ID, and all the bells and whistles. No, this is not a commercial for Vonage, but you need to understand what it is.

I always wondered if Vonage, being tuned for voice communication (hence the "VoIP" part), could handle data communication with an analog telephone modem. I was concerned because modems, especially at higher speeds, probably generate some crazy fluctuations of tones that certain (or most?) VoIP codecs might not be able to handle. After successfully sending some faxes (which typically transmit between 9600 bps and 14.4 kbps), I thought I'd try my luck with a traditional data modem and a BBS.

Colossus Login Screen

"Colossus" in Virginia (703-818-8904) is a favorite BBS of mine because it's one of the few dial-up WWIV BBSes left out there (WWIV is the software I ran myself back in the day). Colossus is also unique in that it is likely the only BBS running vintage WWIV v4.24 that also has a working telnet connection (for those of you who'd like to try it out sans modem, here's your chance). The reason why such a telnet connection is incredibly rare is because v4.24 wasn't designed to use a telnet connection — only a modem, so it requires some sophisticated tricks, obscure software, and a little OS/2 magic to make it work. Someday I hope to reproduce his accomplishment and put my old WWIV v4.24 BBS online through telnet. But that's another story.

So I dialed up one of my favorite BBSes. The connection was very laggy, but still usable if you know how to clench your teeth tightly enough. There was a significant delay between what I typed and seeing it echoed back to me over the line. An excerpt from this page on Experts Exchange gives some clue as to why this happens with VoIP lines:

The Vonage VoIP service has packetization at 20ms intervals as standard. You can phone up Vonage and get them to change this to 10ms instead which shouldn't affect the phone service but should allow the analog modem to work [much better]. Phone tech support and ask them to change your packetization from 20ms ("high") to 10ms ("normal").

You could also try adding *99 to the beginning of the number you are dialling. This tells Vonage to do the following for THE NEXT CALL ONLY:
1) Change packetization from 20ms to 10ms
2) Disable "Bandwidth Saver" (gives the modem more bandwidth)
3) Uses codec G.711 (good for data).

It seems the "packetization rate" of the VoIP connection has a lot to do with the lag I experienced. Now if I truly understood exactly how all this "packetization" worked, I might be able to tell you exactly why it does what it does, but I don't (doubtless, some one out there could fill us in with more detail). All I know is that there is delay in encoding and decoding the data sent over the connection, which is understandable due to the technology involved. I tried dialing *99 in front of the number as suggested (to force the line into "fax mode"), but it didn't make any noticeable difference to me.

Colossus BBS Last CallersLatency problems aside, I still found the connection usable (even if annoying at times), and the possibilities incredibly exciting. Heck, with Vonage's cheap international call rates, maybe I could even find a dial-up BBS in China? Russia? South America? That would be incredible (If anybody finds some working international BBS numbers, let me know). Use of Vonage for dial-up BBSes has opened up whole new worlds to me…that are, ironically, also very old.

If you have Vonage — or even if you don't — I highly recommend trying it out at least once. Fire up your dusty old computer, flip on your modem, and plug it into that neglected RJ-11 port in the the wall (or the Vonage box, depending on how you have it set up). Oh, the joys of the derelict BBS! Nothing really takes you back like working with Telix or PC Plus in DOS, full-screen, and hearing the old modem screech again, if only for one last time.

Update: Say it Ain't So!

Colossus Dial-up No More

Breaking news. Since I started writing this article, we've lost another one. :( Earlier this month, Colossus's Sysop, Dr. Forbin, announced that he was finally taking down the dial-up line. It's sad news to me, but luckily Colossus's telnet line is still up and running if you'd like to check it out. Well, at least I got to experience the classic dial-up goodness of Colossus one last time before the end. Nobody said these things would last forever.

Update (09/01/2006): Have a BBS story yourself? Please consdier submitting it to my BBS Stories Archive.



88 Responses to “The Dial-Up BBS Revisited”

  1. Layne Says:

    Ah, the good old days. 2400bps was screaming….I used to log in to my local boards, even go to MEETS where everyone would meet everyone in real life. Multi-line boards with real time games and chat were cool, too.

    Layne

  2. PWP Says:

    Well, that's really too bad that Colossus is leaving dialup, because this is an application that should be preserved somehow. There are a couple of parallel technologies that are still functioning after all these years: CW telephony (Morse code), still alive and well on the amateur radio bands, where it is possible to communicate around the world with very simple equipment, and silver-based photography, where it is still possible to make lasting images with very simple equipment. The vinyl LP also comes to mind. As we move forward into more complex products, it is important to remember the roots of these developments.

    PWP

  3. Bill Says:

    The first time I was at 14400 i was a screaming..I miss those days

  4. Gavin Says:

    One of the great things about growing up on the MS Gulf Coast was that since we had Keesler AFB, there were tons of computer enthusiasts and therefore tons of BBSes in the area. I was absolutely addicted to a BBS RPG game that dealt with a post apocalyptic world, and was easily the earliest thing that even remotely resembled online gaming to me. I wish I could recall the name of that game. Anyone know of a directory of old BBS games?

  5. Anne Says:

    I agree with everyone else who says "good old days". It really is amazing to reflect on how that (secret, exclusive) world of BBS communication has been superceded, mainstreamed, and in the process destroyed. I started fiddling around on local BBSes in the DC area in 1991, and they were like a secret society. Now 15 years later everyone takes it for granted that you can talk to your friends — and totaly strangers — by text in the middle of the night.

    I'm trying to think if I ever would have visited The Cave… would you have been accessible by telnet in fall 94 - spring 95?

  6. Just another geek » Blog Archive » Ghost town dial-up BBSes still online Says:

    […] Link (Thanks, Jacques!) […]

  7. MrDandy Says:

    Ah-yeah! I used to BBS on my friend's Atari 800, and later on my own Coleco Adam! I used that thing until about 1988! 300 Baud, the text read up about the speed of a fast typist. No graphics, but lots of very slow ASCII pix. About the only thing people were saying on the bulletin boards was "HELLO! I HAVE A COM-PU-TER!" I loved the automated text games, and the RPGs with other players. It took about a week for everyone to dial in with their actions. In high school I got a subscription to "Compuserve" to help me research some reports with their "online encyclopedia". What a trip. Well I guess it had to start somewhere…

  8. Keentent » Derelict Content Says:

    […] VintageComputing.com | Vintage Computing and Gaming » Blog Archive » The Dial-Up BBS Revisited […]

  9. Ant Says:

    Don't forget BBS Documentary! http://www.bbsdocumentary.com

  10. OGRE Says:

    I met my wife on a BBS…and no, I'm not that old. And no, she's not a nerd (but I most certainly am).

  11. Marty Z Says:

    AUGH! Incredible — I haven't thought of WWIV in years. I ran "Perfect World BBS" in Northern Virginia for several years while I was in junior high/high school —- (SysOp: Conan) Good times.
    I started with WWIV v4.20 then moved up a couple and of course added many 'mods' — to think I was doing C+ programming at the time boggles my mind.

    I remember making "Focke's List" and thinking I had 'made it'. Lordy.

    I'd like to thank BBSes for my mediocre GPA.

  12. Eric Says:

    Wow, RedWolf, you got boingboinged! Good job!

    http://www.boingboing.net/2006/08/30/ghost_town_dialup_bb.html

  13. directionzero Says:

    Wow that takes me back. I was big into the whole modem scene with my Commodore 64. I rocked a 300 baud Pocket Modem that I received for Christmas many, many years ago. The modem completely changed my view on computers and forever thrust me into the online world. I ran bbs' off that C64 before moving into the PC world.

    It was always funny surfing the real PC bbs' with my 300 baud modem when everyone else at the time had 2400 baud. I was such a pain in the ass for the sysops because it took me forever to do very simple tasks and held up the entire system until I logged off. Ahh those were the days…

  14. The good old days…. at Information Technology Blog Says:

    […] Here is a little piece of history. […]

  15. winnabago Says:

    Great article - you made it on Boing Boing today. I especially like the analog-over-digital communication protocol. It also reminded me of the other best part of the BBS days - ASCII art. Man, that was cool.

  16. Eric Says:

    Ahhh. The good old days. I used to SysOp / Co-SysOp a couple BBS's. L.O.R.D., ascii porn and 110 baud coupler link modems.. *perk*

  17. David Says:

    I used to dial-in to a great BBS in Boston called ARGUS. I even went to the meet brunches which were one Sunday a month at a food court in Cambridge. BBS's were an important part of my teen years and actually helped me come to terms with being gay. I was able to chat with out gay people and talk with them about their lives, their feelings, etc. and find support.

  18. RedWolf Says:

    Gavin, I believe the game you're thinking of is "Operation Overkill: II." It was always one of my favorites as well — truly a classic. My best friend even went to a great deal of trouble to completely simulate the game on my MUSH — well, everything except the combat so far (although it's not available publicly at the moment).

    But fear not, you can still play OOII online through telnet BBSes. In fact, you can play OOII on my "modern" Cave BBS, which is up now at:

    telnet://cavebbs.homeip.net:23

    And Anne, my original BBS — The Cave BBS in Raleigh, NC — ran from 1992-1998 on a single phone line. I never had a telnet node back then, but would have killed for one!

  19. Les Says:

    I got my start in computers thanks to the venerable BBS. Ran one myself for many years starting in the early 80′s and into the early 90′s. Les's Place BBS started off on a C-64 running a system written by Steven Gregory, a friend of mine, called System64. The C-64 had a 300 baud modem and 2 1541 disk drives to start, but moved up to a Buscard III interface and 4 Commodore SFD 1001 floppy drives that held 1.04MB each for a whopping total of 4 MBs of storage.

    Later I moved the system over to one of my Amigas where I ran a number of different BBS packages including Atredes (aka. Skyline) BBS, DLG PRO, and finally C-Net Amiga. My old A2000 still has the C-Net software installed complete with the messages and files it had when I shut it down sometime in '93 or '94, don't recall which year exactly. I'd have to fire it up to check it out.

    I keep meaning to hunt down an Ethernet card for the A2000 so I could put the BBS up as a telnet system, but damned if those cards still don't cost an arm and a leg despite being out of production for so long.

  20. GameCollector Says:

    Just to make it clear, there are two different Eric's responding above. Maybe I should choose a slightly more unique handle. Hmmm…

    Eric

  21. RedWolf Says:

    I, for one, vote for "Eric 1″ and "Eric 2″ designations. Of course, you'll have to decide who gets to be "Eric 1″ amongst yourselves. :)

  22. Dan Says:

    Wow, what a blast from the past. I ran FutureVision on an APPLE IIGS for 3 years in the early to mid 90′s. We were one of the first to have internet email in our area. I actually coded a bunch of modules for it too. We dialed into a hub in Ohio which sent every thing out through Ohio state's computer connection to the internet. (Thanks Xevious)

    I actually still have my system intact and full operational if I turn it on. In fact I fired it up a year ago to download an old AppleWorks database of addresses my dad wanted. The only way I could figure out how to get the file over to the PC. The old Zmodem worked like a charm xfer the file.

    Logon page still has the closing note, with the date of our last operation in 7/96.

    Ahhh memories.

  23. Stark Says:

    BBS Technology was better than the Internet. It was decentralized, and it
    was secure. It made going on-line worthwhile, because the people you are
    meeting are in your own or nearby communities, and so one could build
    meaningful regional relationships with others. There was no spam, and
    email was all one needs to send email: plain text. Yet, fidonet linked the
    world and the islands of BBS systems, and there was global networking,
    except it was hell for the military to monitor and so the arpanet was given
    the promotional push it needed to prevent MSN from becoming The NET.

    The realities of the Internet were such that BBS technology could not
    compete and systems soon began going silent, in deference to explore the new net…

    However, the virtues of BBS technology remain, and it still serves
    excellently up now, when people longing for the days when "personal
    computers" were actually personal can still achieve such dream-goals.

    I continue expecting a resurgence of not only BBS technology, but also
    of DOS technology, in a return movement to reclaim the "personal
    computer" by returning to secured remote computing for regional
    social interaction. You can not tell me, in the age of text messaging,
    that text based BBS systems are obsolete. They are just neglected
    in preference to the ease of use of insecure networking technology.

    I run a single line Wildcat! 4.02, and have been updating the system
    for a resurgence in regional BBS secured networking, and forsee that
    in time, articles like yours would continue to arise in bringing the full
    resurgence together in the times ahead, as operational BBS systems
    come to be listed on the network for those into the secured alternative
    to an enhanced, networked lifestyle. Flush your web browser, it's a virus.

    Gordon

  24. Ryan Griffin Says:

    Yes!

    I started off on a C64, but quickly upgraded to a 286-12 with a 2400 baud modem, for my foray into bbs'in back in 88 I think. Somewhere in highschool I ran cracked Remote Access board, with cracked Fidonet Frontdoor..we used to push about 40 megs a night of games through our local area. We were all poor kids who only ran pirated stuff because we couldn't afford to reg em of course..and TW2002..Solar Realmes Elite..The Pit! All great games. One favorite tactic was to call the operator and do an emergency line break to get your buddy offline so you could swoop in to TW2002 and take your turns..only took a year for the local phone company to get wise to that. And the 'free' calling numbers you could enter in before your number you were calling to avoid LD charges..the good ole days. This was all in the NE CT calling area, good times. Kept me out of alot of trouble when a teenager, that's for sure.

    I boycotted the Web until 2000 merely because it killed off our bbs'.

  25. Hakan Says:

    I used to run a Maximus BBS in Ankara, Turkey. I closed it down around 98. I also co-sysop'ed an other 9 line Maximus BBS, in its last stages it also had telnet ports (and yes, it ran on OS/2 as well, you could do wonders with commercial SIO drivers). We closed that at 2000 and I got so much flak because I 'destroyed the scene' I no longer bother to talk to some of those people. I was too busy with other things and I couldn't find a replacement sysop for the system
    :) Aaah, those were the days. A couple of months ago I dusted some of the backup CDs and downloaded the (now GPL'ed) version of Maximus and tried compiling under Linux, it wasn't very successful. Anyhow, it was fun while it lasted.

  26. Nick Says:

    What a blast from the past. I ran Logan's Run BBS in Swedesboro, NJ in the mid 90′s. I did the Planet Connect satellite dish connection for all my mail, files and other hour to hour info everyone wanted. I ran the latest RPGs like Lord and OOII. I had thousands of usenet groups as the internet was just coming on. I was running this on PC Board with three computers on different OS's. Loved OS/2 Warp. Also had a CD player with 6 CDs always available. Those were the days. 3 lines in allowed for some chat between nodes. I can't tell you how many times I would wake up on the floor between my computers waiting for the tape backup to end. Me and my kids will never forget those times. Being part of the Model A era of telecommunications changed my life forever. Thanks for the memories.

  27. Ryan Says:

    I started with a 1200 baud on a Apple IIgs, the Apple didnt have anything at that time that would support color ANSI character so it was kind of dull but I pushed on eventually getting a 286 PC.
    BBSes was the whole reason I got into computing and eventually ran a WWIV 4.24 board here in St. Louis. I happily still have the disk and reg# from Wayne Bell. It was all majic to me back then, a warm fuzzy feeling of technology and exploring this unknown world. A feeling I miss dearly :(
    But yeah, good article, brings a tear to my eye thinking back on the good times I had with it all. Running a BBS was like having your own club, you were THE MAN with the power, users looked up to you. Being a SYSOP had some distinction. Plus, like others have mentioned, it all had an air of being "underground", some of the boards or file areas you had to know someone to get access. I've got an urge to set up my old board again…

  28. Kaboom Says:

    Ah it's still very much alive… Where you been surfing websites all these years? Careful, there is a new surgeon generals warning out "Websurfing leads to lowered IQ's although the test isn't totally conculsive just look around you I think it should speak for itself of some of alot of people online today."

    http://www.bbsing.com

    You'll find all the major sites or links to them there.

    Even Galacticomm is making a come back, Synchronet is still pounding away sure the times have changed, but the community is the same. A new
    version of Renegade has just been released. All the old doors and games are being redone, have to wait and see it was always a hobby to many so the only ones that remain are the hobbist so it will never die.

    The difference is the people and it will always be the difference between the BBS users and the users of today…

    -Kaboom

  29. Lucrative Angst Says:

    I remember, if you had a C-64, you could type letters a certain way that would scroll and delete back on itself when viewed ont he BBS. Then there was dual-dial up and you could IM with one other user… or the "adult" sites with the x-rated fan fiction… I even went to a picnic hosted by a popular site and was aghast at all the nerdery going on… but it was addicting…

  30. Kid Blue Says:

    Great article, quite informative. Good job working VOIP into the BBS world and helping some of us relieve that crazy time capsule of my US Robotics 14.4 modem with the rocking red LEDs…

  31. kmoser Says:

    A couple more related links:

    Old BBS messages: http://www.kmoser.com/bbs/

    Notes while BBSing: http://www.kmoser.com/oldschool/

  32. Link Right 2 » Blog Archive » VintageComputing The Dial-Up BBS Revisited Says:

    […] VintageComputing.com | Vintage Computing and Gaming » Blog Archive » The Dial-Up BBS Revisited Visiting such old BBSes is incredible — it’s like traveling back in time to the early-mid 1990s. Each BBS is a unique a time capsule, stocked with trinkets and ephemera from the period. On message boards, you’ll find posts from 1994 about the O.J. Simpson trial and which player-made Doom levels are best. In file transfer sections you’ll run across large archives of long-forgotten Windows 3.1 screen savers. […]

  33. Jacques Says:

    Yoru article was just to good (and nostalgic), not to share.

    I remenber using The Well in SF back in 1984 or '85. I had a 2400bps - read 'baud per second' - modem. And while The Well was free, it cost $3.00+ per minute to call San Francisco from LA.

    Hey, At 3 buck plus per minute it was worth it: I could finally get on this "Internet thing'. :) .

    PS: That was my first try at sending a post to Boing Boing. Beginners luck I guess.

  34. CYB0RG/ASM Says:

    Here is the most comprehensive available BBS list for boards still alive and kicking in Canada.

    http://www.hackcanada.com/hackcanada/oldsite/bbs/index.html

  35. Using VOIP to visit the past at fresh + new Says:

    […] Over at Vintage Computing there is a fascinating story of using VOIP to connect to some of the very few remaining ‘live’ BBS systems still up and running in America. I wonder if anyone is now trying to do this in Australia and whether any of the old boards are still running? […]

  36. marc Says:

    I remember the first time I got my modem fired up, summer of '86. My TRS80 was kicking in high gear then. The local BBS helped me get hooked up with so much gear. I remeber we used to ship scanners and printers around. Get it use it for a week and ship it to the next guy. Then my cousin started his own BBS. I think we had one of the first non-business use 386′s in the city, and a bank of modems thanks to his mom. She thought this woud keep us out of trouble -ha - no way that got us in to ascii porn and other goodies.

    I think I will get my TRS80 out of the garage and hook it to my new TV for some fun, now if I can only find the modem…

  37. Tony Says:

    One of the obscure rarities of BBSing were RTTY (radioteletype) bulletin boards created by ham radio operators. (RTTYBOARD for the Trash-80 is one example.)

    The typical data rate was 45-baud Baudot code (prior to ASCII finally getting the FCC's nod).

    One popular use for these boards on the HF (under 30 MHz) bands (*very* limited in number) was the exchange of RTTY pictures. People would scotch tape, for example, a Playboy centerfold to a piece of paper, then run that through the machine typing the proper keys to translate the picture into paper tape. Obviously there was no way to "erase" if you made a mistake. Some of these pictures were created by commercial RTTY operators and got very fancy.

    At 5-6 characters a second, you needed an hour or two to receive the fancier pictures. Poor band conditions resulted in too many garbled characters.

    Heh … sounds like a Monte Python routine about living in a shoebox in the middle of the road.

  38. RedWolf Says:

    Well thanks for sharing it with the world, Jacques — I appreciate it. It was definitely worth it to hear all these wonderful BBS memories! And by all means, my friends, keep them coming.

  39. Jacques Says:

    You're welcome RedWolf. You have a great site.
    After I read your post yesterday, I thought I'd give it a try at Boing Boing.
    My first submission, and your post bags one right out of the gate. Congratulations! It was a helluva suprise reading Cory's comments later on in the evening.

    It's great to relive memories of computers and software gone (but fortunately), not forgotten.
    You just keep postin' and I'll keep readin' :) .
    Jacques

  40. Peabody Says:

    In Montreal, Quebec, we didn't call them MEETS, we called them GTs (Get Togethers).. met my first two girlfriends that way when I was a teen using a CoCo 2 with a 300 baud manual dial modem :P

    BTW, the BBS Documentary is a must, even if they missed out on the whole Montreal scene. Was rad to see Milky in there tho. Rock on Ninjalicious!

    Cheers! Fantastic article!

  41. l.m.orchard Says:

    I'm almost surprised no one's mentioned this:

    http://synchro.net/

    Its a modern, telnet-capable (and modem capable) BBS package that's Open Source and runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X. I've even once had it set up on an OS X iBook running old DOS-based Door games via DOSEMU. On the modern side of things, it's got a full suite of services including a web server, NNTP server, mail server, and more. It's also programmable in JavaScript. It's been awhile since last I poked at it, but it's worth checking out.

  42. RedWolf Says:

    l.m.orchard,

    SynchroNet is actually the software I use to run my "modern" version of The Cave BBS that I mentioned above (telnet to cavebbs.homeip.net for those who don't feel like searching). It's an incredible software package — definitely my favorite modern BBS software. I heartily recommend it as well to anyone who'd like to set up a BBS.

  43. 0xDECAFBAD » dialup ghost towns and amazon ec2 Says:

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  44. Science roundup « Asides Says:

    […] The sweet smell of a bygone era - an investigation into BBSes. Some of this is just hauntingly beautiful: …they tend to feel a little eerie and lonely, like digital ghost towns. Some of the message threads out there have been left hanging and incomplete, with the original post echoing like a thin, ghostly voice through time, still pleading for a response. In some cases, it’s as if an entire online community was caught unawares, swallowed up, and perfectly preserved in Pompeii-like ash. Everything’s there, in place…except the people. […]

  45. Mephi Says:

    Ahh…yes, we're all basking in warm memories here…I remember running my 1st BBS (The Rubber Room)on my 10mHz XT, luckily I just upgraded to the superfast 2400 baud modem. The BBS was only up at night, since I only had a single phone line and it had to do double duty…luckily I had a huge 30mb hard drive, so storage was no problem.

    Even back then, I think the scene was pretty much the same, people still wanted/looked for the same stuff as today…pictures, software, chat/discussion boards, online games, etc. Just now there are a lot more people and lot more stuph…

    BTW….anyone remember Food Fight…my favorite game at the time!! :)

  46. RedWolf Says:

    Mephi — Food Fight is a classic.. it was always a favorite on my BBS back in the day. If you'd like to play it again, I've got it running on my Synchronet Cave BBS that I've mentioned above a few times. You're welcome to play as much as you want.

  47. RedWolf Says:

    I know there's an entry about it, but I thought I'd mention it again: I'm creating a BBS Stoies Archive, and I'm looking for personal BBS stories like the ones shared here. If you'd like to submit a personal account, check out the post about it here:

    http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/187

    Thanks!

  48. SilentBob Says:

    I used to frequent many of the DC Area BBS's, there was a great lil publishment called Focke's that had 100s of the local BBSs and their #s… Lost Paradise, Collosus, and Eden to name a few…

  49. Hendel Says:

    Hey, where is this BBS Stories Archive? I'd enjoy reading it. I ran The Belching Dragon BBS from the late 80′s through most of the 90′s, in Orange County, CA - there's a little history page up on my website, at http://www.belchingdragon.com/draghst.html. After the dialup board went down, I tried for a while to create the same experience on a website - that never worked out, but I still maintain a mailing list to which many of the original "Irregulars" still contribute. To this day my closest friends (not to mention my wife) are people I met through The Dragon. Here's an anecdote for you.

    One of the Irregulars (our users' collective nom de modem) had a young daughter; she was probably about seven at the time. Very smart, precocious kid that we all treated as "ours" at the weekly board social events. One day her mom gets a call from school, wanting to know if the girl needed to be punished. Seems that someone was trying to explain the idea of "God" to her, as the entity that created and maintains the universe. In her eureka moment, Smaltos exclaimed, "Oh, you mean he's a sysop!" Her teachers didn't know the word, and thought it might be a foreign/naughty one - they called her mom to find out if Smaltos needed to be punished. :-)

  50. RedWolf Says:

    Hendel,

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us. The BBS Stories Archive is not yet up, but feel free to email me a story that I can add to it, if you wish.

    In the mean time, I recommend you check out some of Jason Scott's excellent BBS-related web pages. http://www.textfiles.com/history/ is a good place to start.

  51. JoelMelcosky Says:

    It seems as though many peoples first BBS experience was compliments of the Commodore 64, damn I loved that computer. I ran a BBS in Brandon, MB running on a C-64 with three 1541 drives daisy chained together. I believe the software was called EBBS, very popular in our area. It seemed as though everyone in our BBS scene tried to run their own at one time or another. As a result, many of the BBS's were of the 'fly by night' variety. Here one day, gone the next……..

  52. adrian Says:

    I'm conducting research on the early PCs/BBS/telephone phenomenon. Your tales are excellent.

    Anyone have fully documented PRICES on the early machines from receipts or why. Or know of a bona-fide source of this info.
    Thanks

  53. Almost American Says:

    I met the man who is now my husband in 1995 through a BBS. I am still a member of the same FirstClass BBS - the Boston BBS. I don't think it's available through dialup anymore, but it's accessible via the FirstClass software or the website at http://bostonbbs.org/ Although it's called the BostonBBS we have members around the US, and we are linked to a couple of FirstClass BBS's in California.

  54. aurora Says:

    i met my fiance on the bbses 10 years ago. :)
    we started dating 2.2 yrs ago…. But how time flies… good ol' days is right!

  55. XZaapryca Says:

    If it wasn't Operation Overkill, it was Land of Devastation. I ran eight line BBS in Oregon till 1998 (Dark Citadel). Damn, I miss it. After upgrading my main system, there is enough left over hardware for another computer….Hmmm….

  56. abe Says:

    hey love this website man. brings me back when i was a little kid at leachmere… now outta business and getting a packard bell. many the little engine that could :P it was great. then bbs. wow. all around my area, southshore of boston, plymouth rock. man it was great. i just wanted to see those sites again but alas. i couldnt. it was also the first place i downloaded my first pic of a really pretty women! lol. took 45 mins. :) it was fun…

  57. Sysop Says:

    Just now read this, guess I get too busy to be on all the websites I want to be on…
    I have been running my BBS "GameMaster's Realm" (http://GameMastersRealm.com) since 02/15/80, so over 26 years. Currently it's all telnet (telnet://gamemastersrealm.com), though I am working to add a couple of dial up lines (had them until about 2002).
    I host BBSFiles.com where I collect BBS Door source code, currently for over 400+ doors. Most all are available with registration keys.

  58. Andrew Wiskow Says:

    I'm an old Commodore enthusiast, and I've just recently returned to the U.S. after living in Japan for several years. I've also recently discovered VoIP, and I switched over about a month ago (I use AT&T Callvantage). I discovered, however, that there doesn't appear to be ANY dial-up Commodore BBS's left in existence (there are several that run on Telnet). So, I've decided to bring my old BBS back that I ran in Portland, Oregon… It's called Cottonwood BBS. It'll be run on a Commodore 64, with a 2400 baud modem, best experienced by calling with a Commodore Graphics Terminal! I've had some hardware issues to overcome (my old 1200 baud modem didn't like the VoIP line, so I've ordered a "new" 2400 baud modem with v.42 error correction capabilities), but once I've got everything that I need, my BBS will be back online as DIAL-UP ONLY. This is sort of a "preservation of history" project for me, and if nothing else, it'll give people a place to call to test out their old modems with.

    Anyway… I enjoyed reading your article, and I just wanted to let you know about my little project. I'll post here again with the phone number for my BBS once it's officially back up and running! :-)

    -Andrew

  59. Andrew Wiskow Says:

    Hello again!

    Well, after a bit of a delay, Cottonwood BBS is now back up and operational! As it turns out, the 1200 baud modem wasn't the problem, but instead it was the VoIP line I was trying to run the BBS on. I had to switch back to a regular phone line in order to get good results. The 2400 baud modem I tried to used wasn't working well, so I'm back to where I started on the 1200 baud modem.

    Anyway… You can call Cottonwood BBS at (951)242-3593. Open 24 hours a day, running at 300/1200 baud. For more information on the BBS, or to get some tips on connecting, check out the following website:
    http://www.wiskow.hpg.ig.com.br/index.htm

    I hope to see you "online"! :-)

  60. Anon1 Says:

    Could BBS's somehow be modernised without switching over to 'Net, that is, Buliteen Board Systems over dedicated 'broadband' lines

  61. Anthony Olszewski Says:

    I found this article extremely interesting:
    http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/161
    It seems like just yesterday that I was spending many an evening checking out the local BBSes.

    Thank you.

    Anthony Olszewski

  62. westburian Says:

    wow, great site. First BBS experience was with a coco III back in 1987 with 300 baud modempak.

    I just recently setup an old pentium 120 with a 36.6 kbaud modem with TRIBBS software, and it works….

    I guess it will be the only Houston area dialup bbs, I have 3 active members so far :)

  63. tcropper Says:

    I too remember the days of BBSing! Started with my COCO I way back when…mid 80′s I think. Westburian…you should use some COCO BBS software and put it back online! I am working to get my Atari comptuers online (I also was an Atari 1200XL enthusiast)…check out my site for more info…..Thanks! BBSing lives on!

  64. brad Says:

    Wow. Thanks for the memories. I loved Ken Goosen's BBS out of VA. I used a IBM PCjr with a 1200 baud modem. His collection of ascii porn was great! (and zmodem let me get it quick!)

  65. Benj Edwards Says:

    Wow. The thought of looking at porn on an IBM PCjr is pretty amazing. Although people traded porn on Commodore 64s too…

  66. THE MAN #15 Says:

    Woo Hoo, !!! I was on the last few callers on that little cation!!! I feel cool now.

  67. NyteVizion Says:

    I remember dreaming about how nice it would be to have a modem that was as fast as my 5″ floppy disk drive. Ohh the days of my Atari 800XL.

  68. kaffee Says:

    Cool. Tried Colossus BBS and what a blast it was. Thank you. PS the captcha I got was interesting, too. :)

  69. Jeremy Says:

    I use to BBS with a Tandy acoustic coupler 300 baud modem and a WYSE dumb terminal. I had the good old princess phone to plug into the modem.

    Then I scored a Coleco modem for my ADAM computer, I love that system.

    Then I got a 2400 baud modem and that thing could scream on the WYSE terminal. The terminal had programable macros. I had the local BBS numbers programmed into the F keys and the keypad programed with P R & T for Port, Report and Trade in Trade Wars.

    Good times. I miss them.

    Jeremy

  70. Jim Morse Says:

    I was using BBS's back in '86 and I just wrote this little blurb with some photo's about Boston CitiNet and others…

    http://www.jimmymorse.com/aboutus/theearlyyears.html

  71. suzannnu Says:

    Woo Hoo, !!! I was on the last few callers on that little cation!!! I feel cool now.

  72. cph Says:

    I started off BBSing in Santa Barbara, late 1985 or so. Santa Barbara had about 15-20 different BBS's, but was isolated (long-distance wise) from the rest of Southern California, so most SB users just called locally.

    SB BBS culture developed its own language. A "Biff" was a twit user who tried to delete a board's message base by repeatedly typing garbage messages into a system. A "Q" (short for BBQ) was a user meet.

    In 1987, I moved back home to LA. Thousands of BBS's, all running all sorts of software and catering to just about any interest. After fiddling with Fido's a bit, I mostly called WWIV's. (The average age of WWIV syops and users was about 5-10 years younger than that of a Fidonet sysop–and it sometimes showed!)

    We had user meets–a bunch of us from the board would go hang out at the mall, watch a movie, or go out for pizza and beer.

    I never became a sysop (the closest I ever got was, as an experiment, dialing into a PC in a school lab that I had connected to a nearby phone jack–and placed an "Out Of Order" sign on….)

    Around 1990, I had found some text-based internet access, and slowly but surely, I was calling BBS's less and less. I think the last time I called a dialup BBS was in early 1996–and I had not called one for a few years before that!

    The BBS crowd was definitely different than the current Internet crowd. More tech-savvy, into SF and F, that sort of thing. Of course, the Internet back then was pretty much limited to academic types and researchers….

  73. Tawnee Says:

    This is great… reading about the day's of yore, and reminds me of my early days on Rosie, a BBS in Portland Oregon..back in 96. We'd hop a server ie. Chicago, and go into #Worldgroup on IRC, to meet the gang, and a robot called "Partyline" ..anyone remember? Usually when the servers were loaded we got dumped. LOL Remember the /w to whisper a private message to someone? I finally started my own chat chanel and named it #Chat-Machine, which caught on, and drew lots of people from all over the globe. We should start another #Worldgroup on IRC haha!
    Thanks for the memories!!!
    *Tawnee waves to all*

  74. Michael Says:

    I say we bring the BBS back! There hasn't been anything like it since, I mean yea, Forums (vBulletin, IPB, phpBB, etc…) but nothing has came close to the BBS. :(

  75. Tony Says:

    I ran Access:Earth, a multi-line WWIV BBS (later VBBS) in Atlanta from 1993-1997. Miss it terribly. Bulletin boards were the first social networking sites, and in my opinion they were superior to MySpace, Facebook and their ilk today. Sure, the 'net has pretty pictures and nice sound, but a BBS was an actual community — sorely missing among net denizens today.

  76. Tara Says:

    Hi all,

    I worked at CompuServe and it was the greatest place ever! The forerunner of innovation in so many ways - and so many amazing, visonary people. I have often thought that the masses have ruined the online community experience in a lot of ways - dumbed it down, depersonalized it, and made it transient. I have a theory that everything will come full circle again and premium content and niche communities will be subscription based - web 2.0 has to be monetized soon and also the smart people want to be in vetted groups without the noise of the masses and intellectual garbage at the speed of light. Just my thoughts…love to see the fond rememberance of the "secret society" of the early adopters. :)

  77. Tim Singleton Says:

    Just curious as to whether other sysops think that FIDOnet can be used to get around the threat of the government locking down on the Internet.

    China has done so, Australia has, and I understand Britain is thinking about it and of course, it is a wet dream for Obama to be able to shut down the Internet.

  78. Tabitha Pearson Says:

    Hi All - I am a former co-sysop of the WWIV-based Mill BBS, (aka Kitten, sysOp was The Almighty Glands). Just wanted to let you all know I have a new facebook group "People who miss the BBS days" as a forum to post BBS-style threads that you don't want your wall cluttered with, but can't resist making! ;) Also wondering if anyone knows if doors can be set up onh facebook to play all our crazy old BBS games. Glands was particularly fond of TradeWars and wrote several ships and patches way back in the day…

  79. Duncan Says:

    Hey I was wondering the same thing (as I live in Australia) and have voip now with free untimed for local and national, never connected to BBS but have a few c64′s etc and have always wanted to connect to the "net". Never had a modem when I was growing up and would like to get one working at some stage.

    Seems like the censorship thing is going to be unavoidable, big government is "in" and they are going to do their best to turn the internet into a one way streaming TV station.

  80. Bart Says:

    I used to dial in to some bbs with my old mac IIsi with 5mb of ram and an 80 mb hard drive. I think it was at 2400 bps. After watching War Games it seem like you could dial into the pentagon pretty easy.

    The modem was something you could do to get different content on your computer without buying anything, so it was pretty cool. I also remember accessing some bbs through was it netscape? you could also search them…

    I was never a full fledged nerd but more of a dabbler.
    I also could do file transfers with Zterm…

    anyway it was cool to do
    thanks for the post!

  81. TurtleWax Says:

    I used to run MontanaBBS. It began in '89 in Oakland,CA and then moved to Denver in '90 and Harrisburg,SD in 99 where it was entombed to a 3 1/2″ floppy due to cost of a 2nd line and only getting 10-20 calls per month.

    I plan to revive it on telnet sometime this summer and have been testing a syncro.net bbs on my network. Still working on securing it before going live.
    Turtlewax, MontanaBBS 89-99 was a good run… :)

  82. Cheap Nintendo Wii Freak Says:

    I'll go with the Eric 1 and Eric versions as well ;) ..Nice and informative post btw.

  83. Joel Says:

    Has there ever been an idea for a "Virtual BBS"? Since modems and dial up lines are declining? I mean like a BBS you can Log-In to with you regular internet service (Cable Modem,DSL) that has the look and feel of the old BBS but you just "Log-In" and browse.

  84. Benj Edwards Says:

    Joel, you can still connect to BBSes in a very similar way through the Internet via the Telnet protocol. Find a good telnet client (XP and OS X have basic ones built in) and point it to cavebbs.homeip.net port 23. Or click on this link and see if it brings up a telnet client automatically.

  85. Richard Otten Says:

    I was just on the BBS: 209-845-2641 Citadel 64

    It's been years since I've grabbed a modem and dialed in. I"ve long ago forgotten the commands so I'm looking them up and going to go back on in the near future and enjoy the slower pace of text only BBSing.

  86. Avtex Says:

    wow I havent thought about BBS in a long, long time. Many a saturday night I would spend hours waiting for the dail up to kick in, or showing off to my buddies when I found a new board. Thanks for the article, I think this weekend I may try and find some of the old boards I used to haunt.

  87. Retrocosm Says:

    I recently launched a new dial up only BBS just for fun and because I have a load of old retro machines that I wanted to try and connect via dial up. It's UK based, you can find the details at retrocosm.net.

    Very nice post BTW.

  88. Zach M Says:

    AT
    OK
    ATO
    CONNECT

    Ahh, I remember my BBS days fondly. I spent hours, sometimes, listening to the modem beep out DTMF tones into the phone line and waiting for that initial beeeeeeep tone from the answering modem. Back when I had a lowly 2400 baud modem, I could even tell if I'd connected at 1200 bps or 2400 bps.

    I wonder if there's a BBS out there where I might other ex-BBS users from days long past. Hmm, if only I!xg..24^2,,;qkgiii

    NO CARRIER

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