67 points by pabs3
7 days ago
Either I don't understand the argument being made in the linked Wired article, or I don't agree with it. I was part of the BBS world, and then I was part of the Internet world, and it did not seem at the time like BBSes were part of the Internet story. The BBS world was its own thing, with its own style and character and people and practices; when we got access to the Internet world, that was a different thing. It had its own conventions and practices and people and history, and it was not much like the BBS world; once we got into it, we generally didn't go back. It did not seem to be the case that these two worlds existed in parallel, "as ideas, technologies, and people flowed between them"; the flow was one-way.
I think one of, if not the, fundamental difference(s) between BBSes and other services such as Compuserve, Prodigy, AOL (all of which I got a chance to experience in my youth), and the Internet as we know it now, is that BBSes each very much had their own character, communities, and so on, exactly as you outlined. They were islands or oases with very little overlap.
The early Internet for some of us, where a lot of that character overlapped into online communities that were highly geek-oriented due to our early adoption, held a lot of that individual character that we often look back on with nostalgia and an awe of charm. This, perhaps, was the more BBS-like period of time, which can only survive now in closed communities, which are very much unInternety of today, and even frowned upon by some of us geeks to a degree. But at the same time, that individual character is tough to maintain without the artificial exclusivity brought about by digitally gated communities. We did not need that in the BBS are nor the early public Internet days because the exclusively was afforded by the technical know-how required along with the requisite hardware (a modem or early broadband access through work, universities, or other arrangements).
The Eternal September of widely-available public access to the Internet took all of that away, and while it's not all bad, that small-level community charm is all but impossible to come by now.
It's been on my mind now that Discord servers are close to the BBSes of old. They are also closed communities and members get to know each other instead of shooting messages into the void. They don't quite have the charm and culture, possibly because they exist in the context of social media as a whole. But they have a lot of similarities. Even command-line text games, the revival of which really amuses me.
Message boards/forums certainly have that community culture but sadly they're on the way out. Subreddits of a certain size do also but they're fragile... they're subject to takeover by bad actors and if they become successful enough to grow larger the culture is diluted and/or replaced.
Part of a BBS' character was the character of the sysop and users that lived close enough for it not to be a toll call. A BBS around Chicago was going to be very different from one in the Bay Area or London.
> The early Internet for some of us, where a lot of that character overlapped into online communities that were highly geek-oriented due to our early adoption, held a lot of that individual character that we often look back on with nostalgia and an awe of charm.
Before 1993, was there really a distinction between USENET and the early Internet? It seems that most of the geekery that you refer to took place on newsboards as opposed to the ostensibly more serious nets like BITNET/NSFNET.
There was a pretty big distinction. I was on the Internet since 1991. Early Internet was being able to use IRC and telnet to MUDs. It was a whole other world. Email and Usenet was a subset, just "offline" access through UUCP. Many people had that for free or low cost since one UUCP node could just give feeds to another over dialup.
What popular MUDs do you recall there being in 1991?
I don't remember the names, but I remember telneting into some from university dialups with lax security. This was definitely 1991 - 1992.
I dunno - as a sysop I carried lots of usenet groups via the FidoNet gateways. This let myself and a lot of my callers participate in Internet content from the BBS side of things.
Was a crucial bridge until Internet access became a lot more ubiquitous. I also had the good fortune to be in some of the first neighborhoods to get broadband internet in the 90's - so yeah, once that happened the whole BBS thing dramatically dropped off. But you still had small topical based communities clustered around message boards - before the great consolidation onto these massive "social" media platforms. Bleh.
The larger BBSes around here eventually turned into ISPs. Others added Usenet and email. There was definitely some overlap in the mid to late 90's, but in general, you are correct: BBSes either went over to the Internet, or disappeared.
I think the argument is that just because the internet let's you go anywhere, most social media ends up segregating culture into silos, and BBSs ended up being cultural silos themselves.
Anyway, my experience directly led from bbses to AOL to internet ,,(livejournal, then myspace, then Facebook, fark.com, slashdot, reddit)
Ultimately, few people ever experience the same "internet" over a long enough timeline.
So Instagram, Twitter, hackernews are your new bbses
What about forums? I would think those were what succeeded the BBS during the 90s.
For me BBSes were a local thing. What replaced them at first was city-based IRC channels.
Many BBSes were on FidoNET which had email and forums between BBSes.
I'm puzzled, why FidoNet is not mentioned in this article (Ok, it is mentioned in one place, in one sentence with AOL, without any explanation).
For me (and most of my old friends) transition from FidoNet (FIDO) to Internet was natural process. Many of my best friends are from FidoNet times, and I could trace roots of some online/offline communities around me to FidoNet times. Yes, in 2022. Dman, I meet my (second) wife in FidoNet, but we become partners many years later, after FidoNet sunset!
FidoNet overlapped with BBSes but was not equivalent to it. I was FidoNet point, then node, then hub, but never BBS sysop :-)
I was on BBS and Fidonet before home internet hit our shores - it worked well because there were moderators and there were consequences if you acted like an idiot.
If you got zapped from the node and could not send/collect mail and sysops usually were in a network of their own so the known trouble makers and trolls got eventually removed.
For me BBSs were each a separate comunity. Yes, they had their own rules and culture so they seem like now days social networks. I just never thought of them as part of Internet. They were independent services to me.
BBSes without FideNET were pretty much isolated.