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    • It has come to my attention that the [co]inventor of the original BBS, Randy Suess, has passed away in Chicago on December 10th.

      There's been an obituary in New York Times and threads in r/sysadmin and other places.

      This is as good a chance as ever to recommend a wonderful documentary series BBS: The Documentary, both if you were a BBS user or operator, and especially if you weren't.

    • Thanks for posting. BBS was before my day but once I got my 1st machine running Windows 3.1 I found newsgroups which became how I learned almost everything about Photoshop and ultimately the Creative Suite. Then, Adobe took all that away and life has gone hill since. LOL

    • I remember dialing into my friend’s BBS and thinking it was the coolest thing in the world. It may seem primitive to only have a dozen discussion boards compared to the infinite playlist on Cake, but it was cool to share ideas with others in the local community. Of course, it involved land lines and being yelled at to get off the phone because I was usually on for a couple hours at a time.

    • Not denying that. I'm saying that without the ability provided by telnet, BBSes would have been more limited in their audience outreach. It was because of telnet that people many miles apart could participate together affordably on a single Bulletin Board System.

      I knew about gopher but I can't remember using it.

    • The BBSes I am talking about predate telnet. As in, it wasn't an option because it didn't exist. You used dial-up modems. The whole interaction mode was different, and audience outreach wasn't a concern. The first episode of the documentary I listed highlights that pretty well.

    • I would even go as far as saying that the documentary, if you kind of "binge it", plots the trajectory of online communities and communications well into our current territory, and as such gives a lot of context for today's thinking about all of it. It documents the real world happenings (well, part of them) which ran parallel to academic pursuits of people who were thinking up early semantic web stuff, etc (hat tip to @paulduplantis )

    • Thanks @mbravo. I have always felt I was a late comer since I was not a BBS user. Hell I was born in 1963 so I always feel there were so many technologies I missed in my early days. I was never into computers until the first day I learned of the early internet but have to give credit to those engaged in online communities before the web. This documentary looks fascinating so I will dig in soon. Sounds like it might be a revelation. Thanks for sharing!!!!

    • I'm definitely biased in my reception of the material, because I was one of those kids in late 80s/early 90s who discovered this online communication stuff and (especially given the [still dying] USSR context) it was nothing short of miraculous. I went on to be one of the earliest Fidonet members in St.Petersburg (then Leningrad) and served as a Network Coordinator for 2:5030 for over 7 years (I think) before passing the reins (with all the political squabblings just as applicable as described in the US-centered episode albeit without the IFNA-scale things).

      But I don't feel it discounts the experience, rather the reverse, it gives me a better feel of the communicative magic that is going on. All these years after I'm still immensely culturally and socially richer for my involvement, heck, I'm friends on Facebook with the two moderators of a Fidonet-based echo conference called INTERUSER which I participated in even before getting my own node, via a dialup terminal on a BBS in Estonia, and have even visited one of them in real life during one of my motorcycle trips.

    • How wildly interesting. I bet you have amazing stories to tell which would do the current tech climate service. Has @StephenL had the chance to interview on one of his panels yet? If not, how interesting that would be!!!!!

    • So you are saying that this was before 1969?

      I'm saying telnet users were few and far between because they were users of time-sharing mainframes and minicomputers.

      Thus there is no comparison between those who had access to telnet (via work or an academic institution) and those who could use direct remote terminal access through dial-up via hobbyist microcomputers and later commercial micro- and personal computers at will. Same approach applies to actual creation and hosting of BBSes, and thus people who had access to telnet as a protocol in early 1970s had nothing to connect to in terms of BBSes. Certain communicative nooks and crannies (and communities) developing in the world of early [time-sharing] operating systems are a fascinating topic in themselves, and can be considered an interesting parallel branch in the evolution of such systems, but really really niche to be brought up in comparison here.

      Also, contrary to somewhat flawed Wikipedia article, any sizable telnet use only began in earnest after 1972, when RFC 318 was published.

    • I'd also like to reiterate that it's not even relevant what came before what here. Telnet is a protocol, a technical standard describing how to encapsulate a stream of characters in a series of packets to be sent over, eventually, some physical media, and not even a very good one at that. Name stuck to instances of actual implementation. It's still just one of the cases of remote [terminal] access. Yes, remote access wasn't new. Individual access to the concept as applied to non-institutional computer systems was. Computers as such weren't new. Individual hobbyist access to human-sized ones was. Bulletin boards, physical ones, weren't new either, likely by a couple thousand years. The implementation achieved by Ward and Suess was.

      Today, I can buy a blob of plastic and silicon not much larger than my thumb, for a few dollars, and with a bit of tinkering (one evening worth of it) make it (just as an example) into a captive wi-fi portal, essentially, a high-tech, lo-fi BBS, which can be plugged into a back of a TV in a barbershop. I can't wait to see what the next generation of hobbyists and tinkerers will make of all this technowizardry that will be as evolutionary and revolutionary significant as the humble BBSes were.

    • I just watched part I of the doc and the one thing that sticks with me was that lowest common denominator surfacing as we see with the toolset available today. The flame wars between Commodore and Apple users seemed to set to the tone to what has followed. Of course technology is merely a reflection of what already resides inside of us but it is my greatest hope that this next round of development will start to look for at least a higher common denominator. I use the kids in the candy store analogy often to argue away what we see today but now we are entering adulthood so it is time to think beyond immediate gratification. Yeah - I know it is a hell of a monetizing strategy:-(. Ever the optimist though!

    • Just wanted to say that I’m learning A LOT from this discussion. I also appreciate that we can have spirited debates on Cake without resorting to ad hominem attacks or other troll-like behaviors.

      I grew up knowing of FidoNet but had no access to it. And I knew of Compuserv, which was prohibitively expensive with their hourly(!) rates. For a kid in high school, BBSs were my first opportunity to access an online forum world. I remember one BBS had a board dedicated to a group story set in a fantasy world, where participants would contribute another chapter to an infinitely evolving tale. (I think @Felicity should start something like that here, FWIW.)

    • I actually have a personal story linking BBSes and Montreal :) in early 90s I was running a BBS and Fidonet node out of a room technically belonging to the student union of the Lensoviet Institute of Technology but during the day occupied by a ragtag team of computer geeks who were running the institute's accounting (as in running the actual payroll, not doing the accounting) for thousands of faculty and students. I moonlighted there as an in-house expert on IBM PC compatibles and MSDOS/DRDOS/Windows, and in return was allowed to do whatever I wanted outside of work hours (including, very generously, use of the phone line). Modem was 2400 something, initially even without error correction. I often spent nights working on the station configuration, reading mail and generally tending to stuff.

      I don't remember which year exactly that was, probably 1991, but to my utter surprise I got a direct (!) dialup call from Quebec. It turned out to be a retired radiologist with a curious mind, who learned computers on his own, learned about BBSes initially because someone told him there were nice crosswords on some of them. He had an interest in Russia and St.Petersburg especially, and so he looked up the Fidonet nodelist and found the entry for my node (there were just a handful at the time). He couldn't stay on for long, because international phone rates, but we kept in touch via Fidonet netmail, he eventually got a Fidonet address of his own, he learned about Linux from me (and set up a heterogeneous network of Windows PCs, Macs and a Linux box in his basement, I think he was well past 65 when he started, from scratch) and we had many a wonderful discussion. He would call directly from time to time and we would sit in sysop chat. Calling overseas to a 2400/no correction modem wasn't much fun though, and in a couple years to my utter embarrassment I got a surprise Christmas (well, New Year's) present - a USRobotics Courier DS (14400), the big flat black supercarrier of a modem that was almost an unimaginable luxury. Needless to say, quality of his direct connections improved to no end :) and so did the carrying capacity of the whole St.Petersburg Fidonet network backbone (our partners for international routing in Estonia have been running USR DSes for quite some time already, so we were suddenly able to receive and transmit vastly higher volumes of mail in the space of the same long distance call).

      We kept in touch for a long time, and Jean-Pierre (that was his name) even visited St.Petersburg in person, and of course visited me and my family where we lived and we showed him around and had a great time. We continued to be long distance friends well into the Internet era, switching over to Skype and email, until somewhere in late 2000s he dropped off the radar and we learned from his relatives that he has passed away (old age).

      It was one of those cases which to me prove the absurdity of the whole "Internet desocializes people" discourse, and it was especially obvious and magical for me because it started while the Iron Curtain was still very much in place. I have had many more experiences like that (e.g. me and friends turning up at a stranger's backyard in Alabama on three Honda cruisers, because an hour prior we called him out of the blue saying "hey we're three motorcyclists from Russia and we got your number on the Tent Map on AdvRider, can we, err, camp at your place overnight?" (hat tip to @Chris ) :)), but this one is both about BBSes and Canada/Quebec, so there you go.

    • I just made it through the FidoNet section of the documentary. That certainly is interesting. How politics is basically baked into the human condition seems carry through with this piece. The problems they were facing sure does seem familiar to what we see today. NOISE! How the hell do we innovate around this??? (I believe there are oportunities though)

      I just did a little research on Tom Jennings. Interesting fellow. It looks like FidoNet is still operational. Is this true? Do you sill engage with the service?

    • It looks like FidoNet is still operational. Is this true? Do you sill engage with the service?

      Definitely operational, both in places where dial-up connectivity is still viable/attractive for technical or other reasons, and emulated over Internet for backbone transmissions and retro purposes.

      I haven't been an active member of the net for quite some time now, but I still own a modem "just in case" :) ; used to maintain a node reachable over the Internet for a bit, but that was years ago. A huge chunk of my personal and professional network consists of former Fidonet sysops though, and we keep in touch daily using whichever methods are convenient - with one especially close circle we even have a small Slack team going, the one on a free plan.

    • My first "BBS" was allot more crude, in the 80's somewhere in the Eastern Block (which by the way I think were much smarter than their Western, rich, neighbors). I was working at a company making clones of VT 120 and VT 220 terminals. And as fun, me and a friend dropped three wires between several building floors, and connected the RS 232 ports. We were able to type and see what each other was typing in real time and have a text "chat". Then we went outside and had a cigarette and a laugh together..

    • That's an awesome story! :) two tin cans plus a string, next generation.

      When my hoarder streak hits, I'm regularly thinking about getting one of the VT terminals to use as a console ; only the costs of importing one to Israel and the fact that I live in a rented apartment stop me :) (not always, I already carted a G4 Cube from the States here, with the gigantic display and all, had to explain the customs agents here that it's a retro relic, hehe)

    • I got a surprise Christmas (well, New Year's) present - a USRobotics Courier DS (14400), the big flat black supercarrier of a modem that was almost an unimaginable luxury.

      USRobotics DS! Fancy! Much better than the old plain HST that had 14.4k only with other HSTs. :-)

      Those were the days (used to be SysOp on 2:381/110)...

    • Those were the days (used to be SysOp on 2:381/110)...

      I started out as 2:490/20.2011, then 2:50/200 then 2:5030/10 while carrying 2:5030/0 hat, and was effectively also co-sysop at 2:5030/2

      Couldn't resist posting the magic numbers :)