Back in the mid to late-90’s I ran what is called a Bulletin Board System, or BBS for short. Think of it as the world’s first true social network. Unlike today’s social networks, there was a very real sense of community. Many friends, enemies, and trolls were made.
To run a BBS, one needs a specially developed communications software package. There were plenty of packages available when I entered the scene in the late 80’s. Renegade, Telegard, Opus, Wildcat!, and Synchronet were but a few software packages available. These were generally geared with many features requested by demanding users and System Operators (Sysops), but they all were built for common modem communications.
Features included local email, files, message “bases” (now known as forums) and if the system was apart of a national or international message network like Fidonet, international “netmail” and networked message bases. Many BBS’s also had external add-on programs often called doors. There were many kinds of doors including games, software to allow one to download their messages for offline consumption then upload any replies, and general use database programs, just to name a few. Some of my favorite door games were Legend of the Red Dragon, Solar Realms Elite, and Trade Wars 2002.
After years of playing with many BBS packages, helping run several BBS’s as co-sysop, my original foray into becoming a Sysop of a public BBS was rather short, but fun! I had started off with a popular software package called Virtual BBS (VBBS) 7.0 developed by Roland De Graaf in early ’97, then moved to Virtual Advanced (VADV) when it became available in late ’96 from the same developer. I kept it running as a background process on my mighty AMD 200MHz Windows 95 system. I had a 129Kbps 3 channel ISDN line for my phone. I had a modem adapter that would, in theory, sense a call coming in on the BBS line, drop the that line’s connection to the Internet, and allow the BBS’s modem to answer, all while keeping the first line connected to the Internet. Eventually I gathered enough money to buy a used license for Wildcat! Winserver 5. This software allowed not only modem communications, but also allowed a protocol called telnet, and had servers for HTTP, NNTP, SMTP, and POP3. This allowed for access through standard Web browsers, telnet terminal programs, Usenet news readers, and email client programs. Eventually, my interest changed and I dropped out of the scene so I could build websites as a hobby.
In 2003, I got all nostalgic and brought back the BBS using the Virtual Advanced software. For having no original developer support, event today it has awesome community support. An independent programmer developed a set of server utilities to allow for telnet and Internet email. Since my ISP blocked many of the common server ports, I setup the software on a Windows Server VPS (Virtual Private Server). It was great! I hooked up to Fidonet and a couple of other messaging networks. It didn’t have many callers, but it was still worth it. In 2008 I fell on hard times and could no longer afford the server, and had no real Internet connection. So sadly, I dropped out again.
So now, in 2013 I brought back my BBS running Synchronet BBS software under Linux. It has all the servers one could want, along with some really nice features. The name is Fireball Express!!! BBS (Fireball is my handle) and it’s reachable via web and telnet (Flash telnet client too!). I’m enjoying it again, and I hope to have it running for a very long time and building something really cool. I’m looking forward to establishing real friendships and a sense community in the age of Facebook and Google+.
Maybe more later…