How is a BBS Like a Social Network?

Bulletin board systems were once the talk of the geek town, and before the days of the Internet, they were one of the best ways to connect with other people electronically. Email, forums, multiplayer games, and file sharing were all services commonly offered by your average BBS. So, how are they similar to today’s social networks?

Well, let’s start by how people join the service. A local BBS didn’t just let anyone anonymously log in. They usually required some form of a network ID to be established in addition to a password. This ID enabled users to play door games (multiplayer games hosted on the BBS), participate in group discussions, send email (private messages) back and forth, and even share files such as photos and basic programs.

Like a modern social network, the BBS of the early ’90s offered users the ability to form groups with like-minded individuals and take part in discussions. While not every BBS had this feature, many did, creating an atmosphere not entirely unlike the group discussions found on Facebook, Google, Yahoo!, and on many forums all across the Web.

Door games provided users with a turn-based multiplayer gaming experience. Games like Trade Wars 2002 and Legend of the Red Dragon were run through programs referred to as “doors” on the BBS host system, itself. These programs were accessible through the BBS and often allowed players to use their existing BBS login to play under. Does this sound familiar? Facebook has many games that run in a very similar manner today. For example, FarmVille is one such game that is in itself a separate app from the network, but allows players to access it through the network itself.

There are some notable differences between the two, however. For one, most BBS servers only allowed a single connection at a given time. Chatting was done between the server host (SysOp) and the end user only. A game of Scrabble, while still possible, took much longer to finish as each player had to log in using a direct dial-up connection when no one else was using the BBS. Yes, the server was so single-track minded that the monitor would actually display the user’s actions on the host’s monitor. This may sound a little creepy, but it’s how the SysOp knew when something was wrong.

In addition, connection speeds have greatly improved over the years. In the early days of the BBS, users would have to get used to single characters loading one-by-one as a new page of information was accessed. A single JPG file could take minutes, or even hours to download. Graphics were usually limited to ASCII characters, and color was an extra not every SysOp implemented.

So, is a modern social network like a BBS? I would say, absolutely. There are many parallels between the two, and undoubtedly some of the features you see on today’s social networks were inspired by previous communication technologies like bulletin board systems, chat protocols such as IRC, and newsgroups. The question facing us today is: what will our current social networks inspire?

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Daniel Escasa

    1. Far as I can tell, most BBS software could operate in a multi-user environment, just that  BBSes, being run mostly by hobbyists using their own phone, could accommodate only one dial-in caller at a time.

    2. I don’t know of any BBS software that allowed users to create their own groups (discussion forums, to be more precise). It was the SysOp would created the groups. Haven’t gone over BBS software in a while, but the SysOp may be able to give permissions to create groups to selected users or group of users.

    • Ian Shot

      Citadel BBS could be setup to allow users to create their own rooms.  

      In the early 90s not every BBS software was mutiline.  Citadel wasn’t, WildCat was kind of.  WildCat! required you to run mutiple copies at the same time in Desqview.  Citadel/UX was able to run multiline, and so was MajorBBS.  

      I am pulling this all from memories of running those BBS softwares at various times.  I ran Citadel & Citadel/UX for the longest, but I hung out on a few MajorBBSes.  I also ran a WildCat! support BBS for the company I worked for back in the early to mid 90s.  

  • Daniel Escasa

    1. Far as I can tell, most BBS software could operate in a multi-user environment, just that  BBSes, being run mostly by hobbyists using their own phone, could accommodate only one dial-in caller at a time.

    2. I don’t know of any BBS software that allowed users to create their own groups (discussion forums, to be more precise). It was the SysOp would created the groups. Haven’t gone over BBS software in a while, but the SysOp may be able to give permissions to create groups to selected users or group of users.

    • Ian Shot

      Citadel BBS could be setup to allow users to create their own rooms.  

      In the early 90s not every BBS software was mutiline.  Citadel wasn’t, WildCat was kind of.  WildCat! required you to run mutiple copies at the same time in Desqview.  Citadel/UX was able to run multiline, and so was MajorBBS.  

      I am pulling this all from memories of running those BBS softwares at various times.  I ran Citadel & Citadel/UX for the longest, but I hung out on a few MajorBBSes.  I also ran a WildCat! support BBS for the company I worked for back in the early to mid 90s.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UTZYTXPMBEYVD35YYKJM7N34PQ Karl

    I remember the days when BBS’s were popuplar. but mainly running under dos on a pC or on DIskette if you were running it on a commodore 64. The local college that I went to in the early 90’s had a computer that was running DOS and an application from Quaterdack running desqview an application to multitask under the DOS environment way back when DOS was the only thing around.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DESQview

    There are some some software that you can still make a BBS run under windows like Synchronet to create it. But it would be text based or compatable with a browser on it. But it would need to have some updates for it in order to use the web browsers for it. Here is the link for at least one for windows to take a look at it. And software is freely available for it still if you want to take a look into it yourself. 

    http://www.synchro.net/

    Karl

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UTZYTXPMBEYVD35YYKJM7N34PQ Karl

    I remember the days when BBS’s were popuplar. but mainly running under dos on a pC or on DIskette if you were running it on a commodore 64. The local college that I went to in the early 90’s had a computer that was running DOS and an application from Quaterdack running desqview an application to multitask under the DOS environment way back when DOS was the only thing around.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DESQview

    There are some some software that you can still make a BBS run under windows like Synchronet to create it. But it would be text based or compatable with a browser on it. But it would need to have some updates for it in order to use the web browsers for it. Here is the link for at least one for windows to take a look at it. And software is freely available for it still if you want to take a look into it yourself. 

    http://www.synchro.net/

    Karl

  • Richnrockville

    BBS’s started in the early 80’s or at least the ones on IBM pc’s.  I started mine in 83
    Great times and the community was like todays forums where people got help and
    met other pc types. 

  • Richnrockville

    BBS’s started in the early 80’s or at least the ones on IBM pc’s.  I started mine in 83
    Great times and the community was like todays forums where people got help and
    met other pc types. 

  • Richnrockville

    BBS’s started in the early 80’s or at least the ones on IBM pc’s.  I started mine in 83
    Great times and the community was like todays forums where people got help and
    met other pc types.