A long, long time ago, before the web became what everyone thinks is the internet, when broadband connections were limited to universities and large businesses, when AOL was young, when Compuserve was king, and when Mosaic was born, I ran a BBS.
BBSes, or bulletin board systems, were standalone, not-really-networked services that offered message boards and/or file downloads. The best had a great sense of community and were virtual gathering places for people of similar interests.
It’s not really surprising that I was a System Operator (SysOp), as a lot of geeks who were in their teens and early twenties during the 1980s and early 1990s had BBSes. They were generally simple affairs, running one of maybe a half-dozen BBS software packages that were available at the time with a single incoming telephone line.
What is surprising is that more than a dozen years after I shut the thing down there is an online “tribute” to that old BBS: the Pandemonium Free Space Port.
I don’t get it. It was never that popular: I only ever had maybe a little over a dozen regular users and, at most, two hundred user accounts. Rob Carlson, the author of this “tribute”, was one of my regulars. I remember talking to him on the phone, and a couple of years after I’d shut down seeing what he’d written on some Geocities page or somesuch. I had some niggling thought that I might need to be worried that I had a stalker, but, come on, it was a piddly little hobbyist BBS. I didn’t change the world. Did I really used to write like that? (In 1994, the WWW was fresh and new, and while it wasn’t my only—or even primary—reason for shutting it down, I could see that the days of the dial-up BBS were numbered.)
Granted, there was a “theme” to the thing; it wasn’t just random discussions (and there were no warez). What it offered was interactive roleplaying of a sort. Not like your more classic roleplaying (think D&D), but more of a collaborative story, where each participant writes from their character’s point of view, but in a shared universe. Even at that it wasn’t unique, as that was the “circle” of BBSes that I participated in at the time.
I recently had a birthday and, as people who see age twenty fading away behind them and retirement looming ahead, I wondered if I would ever had an impact on anyone’s life. I guess in the early 90s I did.