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.