February 17, 2010
Today in cyberpunk history: First BBS goes online.
Source: Wired, and elsewhere.
Future calling. When Ward Christensen and Randy Suess first put their computerized bulletin board system, or CBBS, online for the first time they probably never realized how it would become a major part of the net as we know it today. The idea came to them as a result of being snowbound, they wanted to take the cork-and-tack based bulletin boards and make it electronic so others can post… well, just about anything:
(Wired) It was several decades before the hardware or the network caught up to Christensen and Suess’ imaginations, but all the basic seeds of today’s online communities were in place when the two launched the first bulletin board, dubbed CBBS for computerized bulletin board system. The two developers announced their creation to the world in the November 1978 issue of Byte magazine.
The article created a stir among hobbyists and hackers, and it wasn’t long before others begin building clones of CBBS. By the mid-1980s, BBSs supported an active community with no less than three magazines devoted to covering the latest in the proto-online world.
Primitive, but consider some of the tools today’s netizen has for similar communications: Forums (like our Virtual Meatspace), blogs (akin to posting a newsletter on those cork boards), and instant messaging, including Twitter.
The world was yours for a (modem) song. Since there was no broadband services back then, you had to program your modem (”baud,” anyone?) to dial a number to access a BBS. And when you finally were connected, you found mostly technical stuff posted there since many of the early adopters were the hacker types. But, you may have also found some ways to make free phone calls thanks to some friendly “phreakers” (phone system hackers) so you were able to call those out-of-area BBSs to find the latest news, warez, or porn (done in tasteful ASCII).
More info to download… Wired’s news piece is only a small sample of what BBSs has become. To see what the past was like, click over to textfiles.com and peruse the files they have there (Try searching for “cyberpunk” on their site!). Also, there’s an in-depth look at the history of BBSs in a 3 DVD set called BBS: The Documentary. I’m going to try ordering it and see about a review for you.