Before the Internet – and all it spawned, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram etc.; in fact, before the term “social media” was a glint in anyone’s eye – there were BBSes! Remember those? If you don’t, read on to see what we did in the early 1990s, if we wanted to connect with like-minded folks easily and often.
I will describe a bit of the user experience, having at one time been a member of several BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems) at once. Don’t ask me how I kept them all straight!
First, take a look at this:
You can see that this is exclusively text-based. Early BBSes were geeky-looking DOS creations, un-prettied up by windows, let alone any frilly curtains! But they did the job. Under the watchful and careful eye of the sysop (system operator), presto! – you would be linked to other like-minded folks sitting at their computers, and you’d be afforded a chance to chat, exchange messages or posts, play simple games, view each others’ profiles, and so on. Quite revolutionary back then.
Each BBS had a different focus and slightly different clientele. (Oh, did I mention they were free? Very democratic!) In Montreal, some were French, some English, and many bilingual. Some were rather intellectual; others were more like the dating sites that exist now. Some were heavy on games or many different files people could download.
I first discovered a BBS – Saturn 5 – in 1992, as I was hovering over my son’s shoulder, watching what he was doing, and became entranced. This was a very friendly bilingual BBS, heavy on chat and games. I recall that the chat on Saturn had the cute feature wherein you could see what the other person was typing while they were typing it, letter by letter! The only drawback was when they were a slow typist. 😉
Users would invent a handle or alias for themselves. My first alias, I’m rather embarrassed now to admit, was Twinkles. Now we would just call it a user name, no biggie – but back then it was a touch of fantasy that added to the fun.
Occasionally Saturn 5 users would get together IRL (in real life) and have GTs – er, Get-Togethers. It was amusing to see what people looked like, when up until then you had only typed at them. We had house parties or went bowling, innocent stuff. Most but not all were younger than I was, but it didn’t seem to matter; we all had something in common, a fondness for BBSes.
Another BBS I liked was Wild Munchkin’s Castle. It was very different from Saturn 5, as it mainly consisted of forums with different topics, where you could post your opinion and debate with others. It was quite intellectual in tone, and its habitués included professors, writers and the like. There were no chat areas or games, and the prevailing spirit was serious, as I recall. You could have deep political or sociological discussions here, if you were so inclined.
Another difference with this BBS was that the sysop was a woman – a rarity. We called her Wildy. (Not too original, now that I think of it!) Intellectual it may have been, but the GTs that Wildy spearheaded were pretty similar to the ones I went to held by other BBSes. A little awkward, but fun.
Last but not least of my favourite BBS haunts was Linq. Linq was well run by two co-sysops who were bona-fide computer engineers, network experts with real jobs in the field, unlike many other sysops who were self-taught dabblers. Linq had the best chat setup, games, files, message areas – and GTs. Their membership was huge and they were hugely popular, deservedly so.
I enjoyed my beloved BBSes right up until 1995, when a brand-new invention graced my screen – Netscape! Along with the amazing World Wide Web and its graphical browser, came the Internet. And I was hooked!
For detailed background info on BBSes, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulletin_board_system.