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This is the last BarretTime before the return of Jay Lee. Hopefully, we’ll be back to full force next week, but for now, Dwight is the only person here in the booth to take the brunt of BarretTime abuse. Again, sorry about the Grue last week; those things happen…

So, Dwight, when was the last time you ever Hi-5’d, Yak’d or Multiplied?

If you’ve ever Twittered, FaceBooked, Flickrd, MySpaced, Linked In, Friendstered, Multiplied, Hi5’ed, LiveJournaled, AIMed, Yak’d, ICQ’d, IRC’d, CompuServed, Prodigied, AOLed, GEnied or arguably even USENET’ed, you may want to take this moment to look down and find out who owns the shoulders on which you’re standing.

(Even if you don’t want to do this, it’s too late now…)

Any guesses as to the initials of the giant that made all of these activities possible before they were given cute monikers?


That’s good, because that would have totally blown the rest of BarretTime out of the water…

What about the initials of his creation? BBS.

The first BBS or Bulletin Board System was born out of the Great Blizzard of 78, when five feet of snow fell on Chicago in a 24 hour period. Coded in just four weeks, the CBBS, or Computerized Bulletin Board System, was named after its cork board counterpart used in dormitory, offices, and apartments to exchange information and offers among its local community. The breakthrough idea is this: rather than trudging through five feet of snow to see if anyone is hocking Moon Boots or Space Heaters on the bulletin board at the end of te quad, you simply (Big Radio Air Quotes Here) “Dial In” to a computerized BBS with your phone line and modem, download any notes, postings, or messages, leave your own, then disconnect so the next user could walk up, sorry, “dial in”, to the Bulletin Board and conduct their own social business.

Things were still very local, as this was before the Internet had hit the home, and to reach a BBS in Detroit, you actually had to place a phone call to Detroit, incurring whatever long distance rates were in place at the time. And if you lived in a rural area, not only did you have long distance charges to contend with, but often something known as a party line.

Actually, we’ll take a quick DC to cover this… If you’ve ever had an annoying little sister or little brother pick up the phone while you were dialed into an online service, you can only imagine the frustration of having ten or twenty of those siblings all sharing the same common phone line. The idea is that its cheaper to string a single phone line between multiple rural homes than it is to run individual cables between the CO and each home. And if you lived anywhere as far removed as Conroe in the 80s, there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about. It’s h3ll on downloads.

So getting us dialed back into BarretTime…

The creator of the first Bulletin Board System, the CBBS, was Ward Christensen, creator of XMODEM protocol, which can still be found lurking in corners of the Internet that only Grues and embedded systems developers dare still tread.

The CBBS was first installed on a cobbled together S-100, the bus designed for the Altair 8800, arguably the first hobbyist microcomputer, and soon had Chicago users connecting, one at a time, to post to the very first forums. The SysOp or System Operator played the role of arbiter in what belonged on the board, or even who could post there. Most early boards were free, run by hobbyists, but boards soon popped up that required cash on the barrel head as a way to add additional phone lines and modems. File sharing also took off. Before BBSs, shareware was exchanged in person or by snail mail, but now, people could easily upload and download programs to their BBS without ever leaving the cold glow of their CRT. Power users frequenting more than one board would often aid in transferring these goods from one BBS to the next, and while funny lists and cute ascii art didn’t move at a viral speed, espcecially by today’s standards, they did crawl along at a microbial or fungian pace.

Of course, with the good comes the bad; it didn’t take long for BBSs dedicated to illegal file sharing to crop up. These were often fueled not by paid subscriptions, but by upload ratios: meaning that in order to download something good, you usually had to be the first to upload something better. They also had cooler sounding names than their credible cousins: The Tholian Web was a notorious 713 board used heavily for distributing games in the Gulf Coast area. Of course, all of the info for this BarretTime came from Wikipedia. Groove, can you remind me to hit up Wikipedia post-show and make sure that all of this stuff is actually in there?

BBS use grew fairly quickly through the 1980s and by 1993 there were tens of thousands of local BBSs around the world. A *few* of the dial-in boards made the move to the Internet, letting users connect via telnet or even packet radio, but the vast majority died with the widespread adoption of the Internet that really took hold this same year.

So, to Ward Christensen, I thank you, early shareware users thank you, anyone who has ever used open source software thanks you, social media users thank you, the RIAA has it’d doubts, but we’re all sorry for the scuff marks on your shoulders.

That’s it for this Brief BBS Debriefing and that’s that for BarretTime.

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