Bulletin Board Systems

 
WHAT IS A BULLETIN BOARD SYSTEM?
A bulletin board system is the precursor to today's internet, web forums & instant messaging applications. The whole concept & creation of bulletin board systems (or BBSes for short) began in the 1970's, during a time when network computing was restricted to the use of low-speed dial-up modems & computers that are considered very low-end/obsolete by today's standards.
WHAT IS A BBS USED FOR?
A BBS is, primarily, a communication system (as is the internet); it was (& continues to be) used in much the same way as the internet today. For example, many businesses in the past used to rely on their BBSes (in the same way they currently rely on their websites) to provide their customers with certain services (including documentation on their latest products, software downloads &, most notably, the ability to communicate between customers & service representatives in real-time or through a forum). As well as being a valuable business tool in the past, BBSes were also used by hobbyist computer programmers & amateur radio operators in much the same way as free web hosting services are used by individuals today.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE INTERNET & A BBS?
To begin with, the BBS was invented long before the internet ever existed on the public market. As a result, a BBS uses different communication protocols than the internet (the internet uses TCP/IP as its communication protocols, whereas a BBS normally relies on teletype network communications, also known as Telnet). Another major difference between the two is the way a user interacts with them; the internet is normally accessed through a web browser running on an operating system with a graphical user's interface (such as Windows, Mac OS or Linux,) whereas BBSes were created & used at a time where computers only had operating systems with command-line interfaces (such as MS-DOS, Commodore 64's BASIC system & many others). As a result, special client programs (called terminal emulators) are normally used in order to access a BBS, but Telnet client programs may also be used instead. This means that navigating through a BBS is completely keyboard-dependant, whereas navigating through the internet is as simple as using a mouse.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES TO BBS COMMUNICATIONS?
One advantage is the fact that BBSes are easy to use; since a BBS uses a text-based interface, accessing a different page is as simple as pressing a button on the keyboard. Another advantage is the fact that BBS users normally type in their human language using proper grammar (unlike the younger generation of internet users today, who exclusively use acronyms that are neither 100% apparent to every person, nor standard to their language in general). Also, unlike many FTP sites, a BBS that provides software downloads is organised to not only list all the files available for download, but also have a description listed right next to file (similar to the design of the Downloads page on this website). Staying true to its initial use in business, the BBS is, generally, a more coherent & organised form of communication.
WHAT ARE THE DISADVANTAGES TO BBS COMMUNICATIONS?
Due to the fact that BBSes use Telnet to communicate between computers (implying that one computer is dialling a phone number to access another,) computer users may be charged for long-distance communication (even though the Telnet protocol also operates through DLS modems & LAN lines). Also, when compared to DSL-based systems, Telnet can only transmit & receive ASCII/ANSI data (i.e.: keystrokes & on-screen text) at high speed; BBSes are notoriously slow when it comes to downloading (& especially uploading) particularly large files (which is why most files available through BBSes are compressed in various archive formats). Another problem is that, when a user tries to download a file from a long-distance BBS, the download speed will decrease when compared to that of a local BBS. In short, BBSes are limited in what they can offer (in terms of downloads) & that users tend to avoid calling long-distance BBSes. As a result, most BBSes are local phenomena (i.e.: users tend to call local BBS servers & generate a localised community around it). Lastly, security is a major issue when setting up a BBS, as Telnet is a very insecure protocol that can be easily compromised by criminal hackers.
HOW IS THE ATMOSPHERE OF A BBS WHEN COMPARED TO A STANDARD WEB FORUM?
Considering that both communication systems are global, one computer user can easily come across another from a different part of the world & share information, interests, services, etc. However, it is normally very difficult for cross-border or intercontinental friendships to arise through the forum or an instant messaging application. This is because it may be physically impossible for the two users to meet, or because of the fact that computer users normally appear faceless (which can be very dangerous, especially to children). This applies to both the internet & BBSes except that, unlike the internet, a BBS is more of a local than a global phenomena (mainly due to its technical limitations). As a result, it isn't uncommon to find that most users of a local BBS have physically met before & are either neighbours, coworkers, colleagues or friends in real life. The BBS is, therefore, akin to a club house, where a local group of friends can meet & exchange ideas, software, etc.
I'M INTERESTED IN ACCESSING A BBS. HOW IS THIS DONE?
To do that, one must either have a terminal emulator program or a Telnet client program. SyncTerm is a decent terminal emulator program; it's open-source & available for use in Windows, Mac OS, Linux, BSD & SPARC (& has a wide range of features that any BBS user would ever need). PuTTY is also a decent program; it's an open-source, multi-protocol (Telnet, RLogin, Secure Shell & serial communication) client program available for both Windows & Linux. Regardless, these are only suggested programs; there are many terminal emulators & Telnet clients available at varying prices (some cost money while others are free or open-source). And if that weren't enough, anyone using a version of Windows prior to Vista already has a terminal emulator program; it's called HyperTerminal (using this program requires a user to set up the terminal emulator & have a fair understanding of AT commands). However, many people find using HyperTerminal difficult when compared to other terminal emulators & Telnet clients.
I'M INTERESTED IN HOSTING A BBS OF MY OWN. HOW IS THIS DONE?
Basically, the same general requirements for hosting a website on a homemade server are needed for hosting a BBS; one needs a lenient ISP that is indifferent of the amount of incoming/outgoing transfers to/from the modem, a decent computer with a decent target operating system (which can be anything from a DOS computer, to a BSD computer, to a Commodore 64 & even a Windows computer) & a BBS server program. Again, just as there are many terminal emulators & Telnet clients available, there are also many BBS server programs available (each one ranging in price). However, SynchroNet is a great choice for such a task; it's an open-source BBS server program available for both Windows & Linux computers.
HAS A BBS EVER BEEN USED FOR UNLAWFUL PURPOSES?
A BBS is, in many ways, like the internet. This couldn't be any more of a fact when it comes to copyright infringement & software piracy. Historically, there have been many BBSes that have been shut down by law enforcement due to the content they provided. Such content included much of the same content that can be found over the internet (illegally) today; cracked software, computer virus code, illegally-distributed book transcriptions, scanned images from pornographic magazines & even plagiarised college/university assignments! In many cases, arrests have been made; many users have received serious jail time for taking part in such activities. So, the best thing to do is to avoid such BBSes; if a particular BBS hosts infringing media, it's best to hang up & visit another BBS.
IS THERE ANY MORE WORDS I NEED TO KNOW?
Yes. The words "sysop" & "co-sysop." In both cases, sysop is an acronym for the words "system operator." A sysop is the main staff member who sets up & hosts a BBS, whereas a co-sysop is a secondary staff member who assists with maintenance. In both cases, sysops & co-sysops often visit the BBS themselves & partake in whatever activities are available therein. The term "'leet" is also a very integral part of the BBS world; 'leet is a modified form of the English language, where people cleverly use different keyboard characters to mimic the letters of the Laitn alphabet & deliberately misspell words to form otherwise cryptic messages. Owing to how odd 'leet can be to most casual users (with terms such as "z0ph7\/\/4r3 <r4x" instead of "software crack,") it has been notoriously used by software pirates until the advent of the internet, where it eventually became a form of comedic relief among forum users.
 
 
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