2012
06.21

All right.

Before the Dub Dub Dub, we had the B B S. As in Bulletin Board System. As in, not yet the ‘Net as we now know it’.

As in dialing directly, modem to modem. As in eeeeeee-EEEEEEEE-static.

Which I’m probably butchering as badly as I’m going to butcher this last name:

Wachenschwanz. As in David E, not to be confused with David eeeeeee-EEEEEEEEE-static. OK – I’ve gotten it out of my system. I think.

David E. Wachenschwanz, who signed out of this world on Saturday, June 2nd, was actually the topic of an article that our own Dwight Silverman wrote all the way back in 1996. Without giving away all of this week’s BarretTime, do you have any recollection of that, Dwight?

David was the man who gave us The Atomic Cafe, a BBS that acted as a clearinghouse for other BBSs.

Now for those not quite in the know as to what a BBS is (or was), it’s a system designed to hold not packets but post cards and pieces of paper. Of course, that’s the cork version. The digital version started popping up in the late 70s, and actually did use packets in 128 byte denominations, at least if you were connecting to a bulletin board that used the ubiquitous XMODEM protocol. Developed in 1977, it’s still a protocol contained in Microsoft’s HyperTerm some 35 years later.

So, to get us back on track, we have to go back to the days when the number of concurrent sessions you could host was not a function of your server hardware and bandwidth, but rather directly tied to the number of working telephone lines and modems you had connected to the server running the BBS software. If a resource was busy, you would often have to come back late at night when no one else was dialed in.

Finding Bulletin Boards was a tough prospect as well, as there wasn’t a Google to track down and index everything for you. And that was where the Atomic Cafe came in. Apart from being a community in and of itself, the Atomic Cafe BBS was a clearinghouse for listings of other BBSs in existence at that time. Like the MatchMaker BBS, which eventually became Matchmaker.com, not match.com. (You can always tell who the pioneers are; they’re the ones with the arrows in their backs.) Each bulletin board was usually ran by a single dedicated system operator on any possible combination of hardware and software. The Atomic Cafe spent a number of years on TBBS, which stood for The Bread Board System, a highly configurable BBS server software package that ran on the TRS-80 line of personal computers. This software package was published by eSoft, who later went on to create the IPAD. Gasp! What? IPAD as in Internet Protocol Adapter, a piece of software that brought dial-in BBSs into the Internet Protocol age. You could now telnet into a BBS!

This BBS break-through was also what brought about the BBS downfall. With companies like NeoSoft, MCI and AT&T getting into the Internet game, the need for discrete dial-in bulletin board systems was gone. That’s right: Jay Lee killed your bulletin board. Actually, NeoSoft started life as the Sugarland FIDO in 1986.

Some other interesting BBS names of that time:

The Mail Box in Abeline. 2400 baud.

Second Sanctum in Dallas.

Poseidon in El Paso.

ETC’s Mednet in San Antonio.

In Houston we had Stormy Weather, Chameleon, Space City BBS, Bayou Beastie and Hobbit’s Hideaway.

So, if you’ve ever found yourself wasting precious minutes perusing the collateral damage of a flame war, or if you’ve had the extreme misfortune of taking place in one, you have the early BBS’ers to thank.

And a big thanks to George T for reminding us of this early era of digital communities!

That’s it for your eeeeeeeee-EEEEEEEEEEE-static and that’s that for BarretTime.

  1. Dwight’s original article: http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=1996_1371769

    Best quote from said article: “I think there are still some people who are intimidated by the Web,” she said. “They are more comfortable with a BBS.”