In 48 hours I’ll be somewhere over the Atlantic on my way to London. Three weeks without web or e-mail access is going to be strange. I haven’t been without e-mail that long since…. well, since I got my first internet e-mail address in 1989 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Man, that brings back some memories!
My first online experience was when I started college in ’89. I had a cheap Intel 8086-based machine made by Tandy (aka Radio Shack). It had a 40 meg hard drive, a 13″ color CGA monitor, ran at 4 MHz, and probably cost about $2,500. And yet it was worlds above my old Apple II. Anyway, one of the first things I did was add a modem to the computer. My roommate Paul has purchased a 1200 baud modem for his Amiga 500, and I really topped him with a 2400 baud screamer.
We both used to dial into BBS’s–independent computer systems. They literally had one line. If you dialed in and someone was already on the board, tough luck. You’d get a busy signal. Anyway, one night Paul and I were on his Amiga, and he dialed into a board called Axios. It turned out to be a board run by a Catholic priest. Just for kicks we posted a screwy message on the system, and all of a sudden the sysop (system operator–the priest) broke in to chat with us. We had no idea he could see what we were doing! We could have just hung up, but for some reason we stayed online for hours with this guy, debating Catholic vs. Protestant theology. We pulled out Bibles, religion books, and all sorts of stuff to quote to him. He was probably doing the same thing on the other end.
Soon after, Paul suggested I start a BBS of my own. He probably didn’t think I’d actually do it. But I did. It was called the Christ College Irvine BBS, and damn if some people on campus didn’t get all bent out of shape because of the name. They thought everyone would think the board was officially sanctioned by the college. I put up a clear disclaimer, but that didn’t satisfy them. I ended up changing the name to “Moving & Shaking BBS” but was pissy for a long time over all the hubbub. I spend my own time and money to put up a board for the college, and the only thing they can do is bitch about what I called it. Whatever the name, they’ll never be able to change the fact that the first electronic communication service offered at that university was founded and run by yours truly. It’s not exactly on par with founding Apple or Microsoft, but it had a bit of excitement to it nonetheless.
I connected the board to FidoNet, a world-wide amateur network of computers founded in 1984. I was assigned node number 1:103/940, and as part of Fido I could make use of a “gateway” between Fidonet and the Internet that allowed users of my board to, in effect, have a free internet email address. At the time, Fidonet actually had more users than the internet. That quickly changed once the World Wide Web was developed. But there it is.
I finished college in 1994, and the board didn’t last much longer. For one, most people were file leeches. They wanted to download all your files, but weren’t interested in contributing to the message bases. And my interests had turned to the Web as well–by this time I already had accounts on Compuserve and Deltanet, and had established my first web site. So “Moving & Shaking” closed down in late ’94.
Believe it or not, BBS systems are still around. My friends Dave Bogard, Warren Bonner, and Joe Jared who started their boards at the same time I did, are still operating their BBS’s. The user activity is but a shadow of the late 80’s and early 90’s heyday, but it’s still a kick to dial into their systems on occasion and reminisce about the good old days.
I wish I would have saved some screen shots of Moving & Shaking, just for posterity. The screens were made with ANSI graphics–very crude, but extremely compact in terms of file size. Despite the primative graphics and limited capabilities of these BBS systems, I often look back with fondness on those simpler times.