Here we are. The year 2020. The future. We've got more Internet-based services than you can shake a stick at. And, yet, with all of these modern advancements… there's one decades old technology that is proving surprisingly useful. And fun.
Back in the 1980s (and a pretty big chunk of the 90s) most people who did something “On-Line” with their computer were doing so via a modem, a POTS phone line, and a dial-up Bulletin Board System (aka “BBS”).
You could send email, take part in conversations in public message forums, download files, play games… it was all there. These BBS systems provided the key things we use the Internet for nowadays… albeit on a much smaller scale (BBSs had a limited number of phone lines available – and each phone line could, for obvious reasons, only support one caller at a time). Not to mention much lower speeds (300 baud to 56k).
These systems were almost always (with a few rare exceptions) text-based. Typically made a bit more colorful through the use of ANSI color codes, as shown below in this screenshot of Trade Wars 2002 (one of the more popular BBS games).
Nowadays, there aren't many users of BBSs (at least not in most parts of the world). In fact, you'll find there really aren't that many running BBSs with an active user base. Most that are still up and running in 2020 are no longer available via dial-up modem… as so few people have traditional POTS (aka “Plain Old Telephone Service”) copper phone lines anymore. Instead, most BBSs have moved to be accessible via telnet on the Internet.
You can find the most exhaustive list of currently running, On-Line BBSs at the Telnet BBS Guide (which also has some fantastic resources relating to modern BBSing).
In theory you can use any communications program that supports Telnet to “call” these systems. However, in practice, you'll want to utilize a Telnet client that is specifically designed to support both ANSI text as well as at least one of the more common file transfer protocols that BBSs tend to use – such as XModem, YModem, or (most commonly) ZModem.
Personally, I recommend SyncTerm or NetRunner. Both are available for a wide variety of platforms, and both support the key BBS functionality that will help make your BBS experience much better (and closer to what BBS users had “back in the day”).
To paraphrase a wise man, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could [use BBSs in 2020], they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Let's be real. The dial-up BBS was great in its day. Do we really need to be encouraging the usage of such old, decidedly un-modern technology here in 2020?
In my opinion, the answer is a resounding, “HECK YES.” Here's why I think we, as a people, should seriously consider embracing BBS usage in the modern era.
1) Smaller, reasonably sized communities
Humans were not built to hold conversations with hundreds, thousands, even millions of people – all at once. Yet this is the reality that Social Media (Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, etc.) creates. We've done the studies. We've got the common sense observations. That sort of thing causes hightened levels of anxiety and depression. It's just plain a bad idea, and one of the reasons I've sworn off Social Media as a New Years resolution.
The BBS almost completely solves that problem.
While it's entirely possible to have a BBS with an active user-base of thousands of people – that's not the norm. The majority of BBSs consist of smaller, focused groups of people. Often organized around some commonality (geographic location, interests, personalities, etc.).
And with setting up and running a BBS being a fairly straightforward process (more on that later), the barrier to getting your own BBS going is pretty darn low. Don't like any of the existing BBS communities? Want one for just your friends / co-workers / community? A few hours later and “My Own BBS” can be up and rocking. Thus ensuring that BBS communities maintain just the right size for any persons taste.
Check back here at the Lunduke Journal later this week for a detailed walk-through on how to set up your own Telnet BBS using an extremely inexpensive ($10 or less) virtual server (or on your own hardware).
2) No mega-corporation control
You can run a BBS.
Your friend can run a BBS.
Some dashingly handsome rogue on the Internet can run a BBS.
You know who doesn't run an old-school BBS? Facebook. Google. Twitter. Microsoft. Apple.
Name a company you don't trust. That company? Doesn't run a BBS.
Censorship. Shadowbanning. Data collection and spying. No big company is going to be doing any of that to you when you're connected to a BBS.
And, heck. Don't like the way any particular BBS is being run? Ask the SysOp (the person who is the primary administrator of the system) if a change can be made. If you don't like the answer… no biggy! There's plenty of other BBSs in the proverbial sea.
3) Support for nearly every computing platforms
Ever try to use a modern online service (like, say, Twitter or Facebook) on older computers or with older software, such as a web browser that is more than a couple years old?
They just don't work. At least not most of the time.
You know what works on darn near every computing platform on the planet? The BBS.
If a computing platform has a telnet client – and, in many cases, even if a platform doesn't have a telnet client — you can use it to call a BBS. Old systems. New systems. Unpopular or “alternative” systems. Everyone is welcome. Everyone can communicate, play, and exchange files with each other.
Increased personal privacy. Support for a wider range of hardware and software. Manageable community sizes. No corporate censorship. Plus… a lot of fun.
If those aren't good enough reasons to embrace the BBS in 2020… I don't know what is!
Now, I'm not suggesting we completely ditch every modern aspect of the Internet. There's pleny of things the BBS can't do (at least not well) – video chat, for example. BBSs would be terrible at that. But there are so many things the BBS does well (areas where significant portions of the modern Internet fail spectacularly) that ignoring the BBS seems like a silly mistake.
The House of Lunduke BBS
If you'd like to dip your big toe in the waters of the BBS world, I have a telnet accessible system set up at bbs.lunduke.com on port 23. Grab one of those telnet clients I recommended earlier in this article, point it to bbs.lunduke.com and take it for a spin. It's free to use, and I don't monetize the system in any way.
The House of Lunduke BBS exists both to preserve some aspects of 1980s and 1990s BBSing… as well as provide me with a fun BBS to use. Because I dig it.
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