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Save San Diego's BBS scene

Metal Edge, Wild World, Bad Boy's Leisure

— A few years ago, before that file resource known as the Information Superhighway or Internet was released to the public, local bulletin board systems (BBSes) ruled. The message bases were full of opinions and facts supplied by various callers. Files were leeched on a daily basis by intellectuals and porn-hogs alike. Those BBSes "hip" enough to have multiple lines had chat rooms; even 20-line chat boards were ringing busy, the faithful users happily glued to their keyboards.

When word about the Internet's release to the public spread, more people were drawn to the World Wide Web. Former BBS enthusiasts moved on, claiming the BBS scene was obsolete. Those who continued to call local boards found fewer busy signals; finally the system operator deemed the board a ghost town and shut down.

Despite the Internet's growing popularity as a worldwide BBS, some refused to give up on the local BBS scene. A few SysOps kept their bazaars running, and those loyalists with modems continued to call. Below are thoughts on the dwindling San Diego BBS scene.

System Operators

"Grey," SysOp of Anarchy X BBS (619-528-2718)

When did you get into the BBS scene?

Spring of 1986. Circa Chernobyl.

How long have you been opping?

I've "helped out" as far back as 1987; I was a full SysOp in 1993.

Does your board have a theme?

It's always been more pro-Internet than other BBSes. We offer a wider range of Internet services -- UNIX shells, Web pages, PPP -- but for the most part, the BBS exists primarily as a chat room.

How do you feel about the Internet?

I personally love it, though its breadth of options sometimes runs counter to actually finding what you're looking for.

Has it affected your board's popularity in some way?

Some people use the BBS as an isp [internet service provider]. Some users telnet in from other cities or states; it's overall broadened the userbase.

Any advantages/disadvantages of a BBS, as compared to the Internet?

The biggest disadvantage to a BBS, especially one where the users are paying, is that the Internet offers a much broader spectrum of services and interest niches with one flat fee a month, and that fee is often comparable to the fee charged by the bigger BBSes. The largest advantage [to the BBS] is that there's a better sense of community, since the users are from one geographic location and are more likely to interact and see each other regularly.

Any more comments?

The BBS user demographic has changed quite a bit since the days of the 300bps Commodore-64 systems. Originally, the typical user was a high school- to college-age male who had a computer because he wanted to work with them or because he liked computer games. Now, computers are nearly as ubiquitous as televisions, and many households have them -- and so the average BBS user resembles the "average person," whatever that is.

"Kokopelli," SysOp of Wild World BBS

How long have you been opping?

I've been operating a BBS for close to five years, but not consecutively. Operating a BBS has its ups and downs. Sometimes it's difficult to get callers, and it can be very tempting to take the BBS down.

Does your board have a theme?

I'm not sure I can describe my theme; perhaps I even lack a theme. My goal, though, is to provide an all-ages board that is fun for kids as well as adults. The theme of my board used to be reggae related, so you can still see remnants of the old theme. I want to keep everything exciting, so when I get a chance, I try and change things around, such as menus and message bases, and I try to add new BBS games too.

When did you get into the BBS scene?

I believe it started in 1993 or 1992. My dad had just purchased a 2400/9600 fax modem. Then, the BBS scene was really kicking, and there were tons of BBSes to call. There were BBSes with many different themes, and many reasons to call them. Now there are only a few BBSes worth calling. This was back when 2400 was an okay speed, and only a few people had 14,400 modems.

How do you feel about the Internet?

I like the Internet from time to time, although it can be difficult to reach files of a particular theme. Of course, the Internet offers a lot of things, and it can be hard to sort through everything. I do think, however, that the Internet is overrated. I go on the Internet for a little bit only to get tired of it and not use it for a while. Try doing a search for "Cigarette Butts," and you'll get every adult advertisement you could possibly think of.

Has it affected your board's popularity?

Yes, the Internet has immensely affected my board's popularity. The thing is, everyone hears about the Internet, and everyone wants the Internet. No one wants to take the time to call something they've never heard of. Before the Internet was popular, everyone could be found on BBSes; now that's hardly the case. Three of us, all system operators, are attempting to re-educate people and get them to call our BBSes and see what we have to offer.

Any advantages/disadvantages of a BBS, as compared to the Internet?

With a BBS, a free one in particular, you won't pay a monthly fee; with the Internet, you always pay whether you use it that month or not. BBSes tend to follow certain themes, so it's pretty easy to pick out your theme and call that BBS because it offers a theme you like, and thus files and messages you want to read. BBSes rarely carry advertisements for other boards, not like the Internet with tons of advertisements. With a BBS, you're led into the heart right after you call; the Internet can make you bounce all over the place, and there's a good chance you won't end up where you wanted to be. The local BBS has many people on it, normally from the same area as you are. The advantage of the Internet, though, is that you can get so many more people in one place at one time than on a BBS. Transfer rates are better on a BBS; one can download the same file, same size, off a BBS faster than off of an FTP site on the Net.

The advantage the Internet has over the BBS is graphical interface. On a BBS, it's rare that you will be able to use your mouse, and the graphics on a BBS require far more talent to create, because the artist is working with bigger blocks for drawing. This, however, gives BBSes their own unique style.

Any more comments?

It's worth giving a BBS a try, though they aren't for everyone. Calling BBSes does take a little getting used to. The atmosphere is completely different, but once you get into it, you will appreciate it. I recommend Metal Edge (619-423-4970); Wild World (619-660-9014); and Bad Boy's Leisure (619-225-0327).

BBS Users

"Chase"

How long have you been BBSing?

I've been active in the modem community since 1989.

How did you get started?

My middle school had a small modem hooked up. I would earn the honor of being the very first to use it for "research" purposes, but there wasn't really any way for that to happen in those days over a modem. So I took the experience and got my own computer and modem, and since then, the San Diego modemscape has never been the same.

What was your first handle?

I know I had "Darth Vader" for a while, but there were too many other DVs; it was just a bad handle.

Do you feel the Internet has affected the local BBS scene?

Of course it has -- though not until the Internet became hip. The Internet has impacted the local scene a lot more, even though wide-area network technology has been around for a really long time. BBSes used to have their own small worldwide networking for forums, which tried to mimic Internet technologies.

I think the most interesting impact the Internet has had on local BBSes is implied in the word "local": the local BBS loses a bit of its identity if it decides to merge with the global networks, and the newer-type BBS is less interesting because it loses some of the sense of "community." You can just hop onto another network too easily to search some other short-attention-span gig if you're not willing to put a little more friendly effort on the person in the same city as you.

Any other comments you'd like to add?

Yeah -- Hi, Mom!

I think local chat systems are much more interesting than global chat boards. The outside-of-chat/BBS scene is integral to a substantial relationship -- assuming that's what you're after -- and having that in common is an important factor. That's why I think local boards are warmer and the Internet is just a cold communication tool.

"Special Agent Dale Cooper"

How long have you been BBSing?

For about four years, since 1994.

How did you get started?

On a top-of-the-line -- back then -- 486/33MHz with a 2400 modem. Through the local computer publications, I came about a list of BBS numbers, and I got around to figuring it out. I started to call a local board -- which has long since gone down, unfortunately -- and met lots of new and cool friends, most of whom I also met in person.

What was your first handle?

Brundelfly, taken from my favorite movie at the time, The Fly.

Do you feel the Internet has affected the local BBS scene?

It's brought the popularity of BBSes down, but they still survive and will continue to have their place in the world both in a computer and a social sense. The Internet has become an alternative way to get connected with people, files, and ideas. The main persuasion to the Internet is world contact and [access to] the mass media.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

On the Internet, dealing with such a mass of resources can be overwhelming, and a BBS is a great way to meet people and know the opinions of people in your own area as opposed to someone in another state or country. If nothing else, you should at least give it a try; more users are always welcome.

"Captain Phule"

How long have you been BBSing?

Since 1981.

How did you get started?

Through some friends. I had played around with computers since junior high school, and a good friend of mine one day introduced me to this new thing called a modem that I could connect to other computers with. My first modem was a 300 baud analog modem -- the type you dialed your phone and then put the headset down onto the cradle on the modem). Like in the movie WarGames.

What was your first handle?

It was Enforcer, which was an in-joke between myself and some co-workers. Being a teenager, I had the killer job at Burger King. I kept that handle until 1993.

Do you feel the Internet has affected the local BBS scene?

It has totally changed the landscape of the local BBS scene. The nonchat boards are now completely useless. The World Wide Web and such things as Usenet and the ability to FTP files has completely killed this part of the BBS world. I doubt that any new chat boards will be introduced and prosper, and the old ones will survive only by offering other services like Internet access. The advantage that a chat board has over IRC or Web-based chatting is that most people who call are local, so you have the opportunity to meet those people you're chatting with. IRC and Web-based chatting have the advantage of being global; you can talk to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Any final comments?

Local BBSes will probably become like CB radios are today: a fad at one time but now only a few people use them. Most people will be on the Internet, with only the old-timers bothering to hang around on the locally run BBSes.

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