Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) are much like the Internet and the World Wide Web. A BBS is an online community. You can almost consider a BBS to a self-contained Internet. Once logged on there are a variety of things the BBS users can do--Read and Write messages in Discussion Forums, Upload and Download files, and Play online games. On some systems the local weather is available, online magazines and newsletters, and other factual information related to the specialty of the BBS.
Most BBS systems offer a general perspective - they offer a little bit of everything. Other BBS systems are specialized and follow specific themes such as Genealogy, Sports, Programming, Religion, or just about anything you can imagine. These systems usually carry files and message conferences related to their themes. General perspective BBS systems do not have a topical theme. Some are dedicated to bringing in large amounts of varying topic message forums covering a wide variety of topics and interests--using networks that you will never see on the Internet. Others might host a large selection of online games for their users to enjoy. Though dwarfed by the amount of software available now found on the Internet, some BBS systems are large repositories of a wide variety of software--and, in some cases, software not found anywhere on the Web.
As with any community, you will find some systems that appeal to you and others that may not. After checking out various BBS sytems, you will find several you will call "home". Then you will have yet another place to happily waste time having fun with your computer - just like the Web!
Types Of BBS
There are generally three types of BBS systems: Dial-Up, Telnet and Web-based.
Most BBS Systems fall under the first two catagories. Once you have connected to a Dial-Up or Telnet BBS system, you will notice things are different from when you are surfing the World Wide Web. The graphics are not of the picture quality you are familiar with on the Web. Another big difference is that on most BBS systems your pointing device (mouse) does not work. Some BBS users notice these differences and never see all what the BBS was offering. These users have truly missed out.
BBS software is currently under major development. Many developers are working towards making their BBS application look and feel just like the Web. Until these applications are ready, the traditional ANSI video graphic interface will just have to do.
Dial-Up BBS Systems
The Bulletin Board concept was developed using personal computers and modems to access other systems online via regular telephone lines. Most BBS Systems fall under this catagory. There are well over 20,000+ "dial-up" based BBS systems in use worldwide.
In order to access these systems, you will need something known as Terminal Software that allows you to use your computer modem to "call" these BBSes via the regular telephone network. This concept is just like you would use for dialing up your Internet Service Provider.
For a list of Terminal Software, Click Here. There are many kinds to choose from for many different computer systems.
Telnet BBS Systems
The Internet has added greater accessability to Bulletin Boards. Instead of having to dial BBSes individually, many systems are now available via the Internet using the Internet protocol called Telnet. There are approximately 600+ of these systems available on the Internet - increasing in number each month.
Telnet BBS systems allow greater flexability for the BBS user since they call their Internet Service Provider as usual, then they use special Telnet Client Software to access Bulletin Boards on the Internet.
For a list of Telnet Client Software, Click Here. There are a number of programs to choose from for many different computer systems.
Web-based BBS Systems
New technology is arriving to bring the Bulletin Board System to the Internet with full point-and-click accessability and full graphics. These systems are still in their infancy and their numbers are few. As this technology improves you will see more of these systems in use.
Once you have your Terminal Software or Telnet Client software - you are
ready to jump in with both feet and enjoy Bulletin Boards. If you want to know
what BBS Systems are out there, check out each of these places:
What Do BBS Systems
Software / Applications (aka "Shareware Files")
As any user of the World Wide Web knows, there are hundreds or even thousands of Shareware Files (Software Applications) available for downloading to one’s PC. With this one might think that there is very little a BBS system could offer. This is not the case. In addition to finding many of the files available on the Web, BBS systems offer files that are either non-existent on the Web or are very hard to find.
Some BBS systems specialize in hosting files of a particular theme or category. Systems that do this save the BBS user from endless searching Web by providing a consolidation of files.
Discussion Forums are undoubtedly the heart of many BBS systems. The ability to provide BBS users a means of sharing ideas, opinions, and information. Discussion forums fall in one of three categories: Local, Locally Networked, and Networked.
Discussion Forums (also called Message Conferences) that are unique to the BBS system that the users is currently on. Messages in these areas is not distributed to other systems.
Some message areas that are distributed within a local network. An example would be the regionally-based forums for a specific geographic location. For example, local discussion forums carried by Fidonet Net 1:274. Messages in these areas are distributed through our net’s coverage area. In this case it’s the metro Fredericksburg, Virginia area.
Networked discussion forums are sometimes referred to as "Echomail" since its 'echoed' across multiple BBS systems nationwide and sometimes worldwide. There are several large BBS networks just for Discussion forums, the largest of which is known as Fidonet. Different BBS Systems carry which Discussion Forums they want to subscribe to - depending on the desires of the users.
There are currently 500+ Discussion Forums available on Fidonet. The topics of these forums range from those being highly technical to those which are non-specific (Open forum), and everything in between.
E-mail has been around long before the Internet. There are two kinds of E-mail when it comes to BBS Systems. The first kind is only designed to be sent from a user to another user on that specific BBS System. The other kind of E-mail is sometimes referred to as "Netmail" where the originator is on one BBS system and is sent via a network to another BBS system somewhere else.
Online games, commonly referred to as "Door Games" are another feature of BBS systems. Games range from the very simple (example - Casino type games) to very complex strategy games (examples - Legend of the Red Dragon, Trade Wars 2002). Some games are simply for the caller's individual entertainment. Other games allow the callers to compete for high scores, and others are often educational in nature.
Another category of Online Games is known as InterBBS games. These games allows the users of one BBS to unite as a team to play against the users of another BBS or a league consisting of several BBS systems. These games usually last for weeks and months. Examples of such games are: Barren Realms Elite and Arrowbridge.
The graphics of these games is not what you are used to seeing on games you play at home on your PC. These games generally use ANSI graphics, although some chess games, among others, use Remote Imaging Protocol (RIP) to allow mouse use. Trying to push full-blown graphics (like those used in games such as Doom) would bring the games almost to a stand still. However what these games may lack in esthetics they make up for in content. This is especially the case with the strategy games.
Another favorite past time of BBS callers is just sitting back behind the keyboard chatting with others online. Some BBS systems offer services similar to the IRC on the Internet: Private Chats, Public Chats and Chat Rooms.
Offline mail is a way for BBS usesr to read and reply to Discussion Forum messages while offline (that is while NOT connected to the BBS). BBS Users can select the Discussion Forums that they are interested in and download "mailbags" to their PC's. Then with a program called an "Offline Mail Reader", the BBS user can open the mailbag and read, reply, and generate new messages. This is done, of course, at his/her own leisure. When ready the reader application will create a reply mailbag. The caller then simply uploads the mailbag the next time he/she connects to the BBS. The reply mailbag is opened and the new messages are distributed to the correct conferences.
This method of reading and writing messages is advantageous to everyone involved. The user benefits because he/she is not burning up online time reading and replying mail. This way the caller gets his/her mail and can participate in other activities on the BBS (downloading files or playing online games).
The BBS benefits because if the user is just coming in for mail he/she will be on and off the system in a relatively short period of time. This opens the system up for more users per day.
All in all it is a "Win-Win" situation. This is why you are encouraged to consider using offline readers if you are participating in the discussions. There are a number of Offline Reader programs/applications available. One of the most popular is the Blue Wave offline mail reader.
Some BBS Systems are doubling as Internet Service Providers. These can provide lower cost Internet access for those who are not heavy Internet users. These can provide such things as Internet E-mail, IRC chat, Telnet, FTP and more. Not all BBS systems offer Internet services - so check around if this is what you are looking for.
Who Operate Bulletin
BBS Systems for the most part are run by hobbyists. These BBS System Operators (SysOps) have spent their money, time, and energy to provide the general public with a totally unique online experience that you cannot find elsewhere.
These are people like you and me - but have decided to give something back to the online community by sharing their knowledge, expertise, drive, ambition, and money towards the communication and entertainment of others.
Since these systems are operated as hobbies, please be considerate when using their system. They have given up a computer, spent money on software, and spend money month after month on electricity and telephone lines for your enjoyment.
Please support the use of Bulletin Boards as much as possible. Become active in the Discussion Forums and the Online Games to show your dedication to such a great cause. If you can possibly afford it, consider making a donation to the SysOp of your favorite BBS system. Its an expensive hobby and your local SysOp can use the money. If you want to see an improvement or to "register" software (i.e. a Door game), please help out the SysOp. They will be very grateful to you. Its a "Win-Win" situation for all of us.