The Bulletin Board System

by Jenny Mitchell

Before the World Wide Web was launched, there were no internet forums or online chat rooms. In fact, there was no way to communicate between computers at all. Right? Well, that’s not entirely true-in fact it’s hardly true at all. Since the early 1970’s, there has been another way of connecting computers: Bulletin Board Systems, usually referred to as BBSs.

What is a BBS?
Bulletin Board Systems are a way of sharing information between computers; much like the internet we use every day. In the1980’s, BBSs were accessible only though a dial-up modem, but by the 1990's they could be reached via a Telnet. Now you can reach them through the Internet.

On BBSs, users post simple, usually-text-only messages for the other members to read, just like the bulletin board at your school. For most of the 1980’s and 1990’s, there were no graphics in BBSs, simply because the graphical user interface had yet to be invented.

The bulletin board system was developed in 1978 by Randy Seuss and Ward Christensen, a physicist-turned-programmer. Christensen and Seuss lived in the frosty city of Chicago, and as a result, they had plenty of extra time in the winter months; time they used to develop the BBS. In the winter of 1978, they went to work building this system, the idea being to build a simple way to develop communication between computers. In just a year their system was complete; Christenson had created the software, and Seuss had gathered the hardware components. Their system went public in 1979, and became quite a success. Soon other Bulletin Board Systems had sprung up, focusing on topics ranging from games to dentistry. Eventually, Christenson and Seuss went on to publish an article in Byte magazine about the BBS.

Today, the Bulletin Board System may seem obsolete. But in fact, it is still used as a way that people in rural settings without internet access can connect. It’s amazing to think that 30 years after its creation, BBSs are continuing to connect people, just like they did in the late 1900’s.

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