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What is a BBS?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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A BBS (Bulletin Board System) is an independently run computer system that allows users to dial in using a modem and terminal software. Once connected, the visitor can download files, read news, exchanges messages with other users or view other content provided on the system. In the United States, BBSs were a popular craze from the 1980s through the mid 1990s. In 1995, the Internet went graphic with the World Wide Web, allowing easy access through preconfigured Windows-based Internet software like NetCruiser. The popularity of the text-based BBS quickly faded.

In its day, the BBS provided the first taste of online connectivity for many people. Since phone charges applied for long distance calls, most users on a BBS were locals. This made it possible to meet offline, and once friendships were established over the system, social communities often grew. Many had regular, organized face-to-face get-togethers.

For the most part BBSs were free, though some did charge. In most cases, the boards that charged offered either pornography or illegal software downloads such as operating systems or other pirated materials. These boards usually had a screening process and special protocols in the login process in an attempt to weed out undesirables or law enforcement. In many ways, these systems laid the foundation for the experience that was to come on the Internet. Even today many BBS users from the 80s and 90s refer to USENET newsgroups as "boards" as a throwback to the original system.

Today, USENET newsgroups provide the BBS-equivalent for online discussion. In addition, many web sites feature Internet forums where users can exchange messages on various topics. The Internet forum modernizes the BBS and integrates it into the graphic environment of the World Wide Web. Though these forums have flourished because of their easy access, USENET newsgroups provide a much more efficient environment for in-depth discussion.

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Discussion Comments

By anon351901 — On Oct 17, 2013

There are hundreds of BBS's today with many different focuses.

By NathanG — On Jun 27, 2011

@everetra - Some remnants of BBS systems are still around today. FidoNet is one such system. It was an original email system that was used to send messages through the bulletin boards. That was actually my first introduction through email.

It has a much smaller user base today than it once did in the 1980s. However I notice that some countries with limited Internet access still use FidoNet today for their basic email services.

By everetra — On Jun 24, 2011

@anon43352 - I loved bulletin boards in their heyday. That’s where I got my first exposure to the Internet, although obviously it was not the Internet as we now know it.

I used to download DOS games from bulletin boards, and I also educated myself in computer programming by downloading numerous tutorials in C programming.

As I said, I didn’t realize that the Internet was much bigger than bulletin boards, but over time I learned about browsers, the World Wide Web, ftp and so forth. I stopped using bulletin boards.

I didn’t realize that some places still have them. I understand that you can connect through a telnet client if you want. There’s no need for dial up anymore.

By anon43352 — On Aug 27, 2009

bbs systems are still very popular and the BBS user base is growing, as well as bbs systems themselves. BBS systems offer a more personal feel when messaging, chatting on irc, usenet or playing games. please do not refer to bbs systems as history. they are still very well, present and thriving.

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