Bulletin Board Systems & FidoNet History

I prototyped a bit of a dialog in Basic, patterned after (1) the cork board bulletin board at CACHE meetings, and (2) the kind of BB you see at the Jewel – you know, garage for rent, dog grooming, etc.

Began writing the real bulletin board program (Called CE.C by Randy – egotistically, the “Computer Elite’s project C – Communications”). Randy put together the hardware.

– Ward Christianson, Randy Suess; The Birth of the BBS; 1989.

Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) and the FidoNet version were based on widely available personal computers, and spread rapidly.

The first bulletin board system was called the Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS), and was created in February, 1978, with software development by Ward Christianson (previously developer of the XMODEM file transfer protocol), and hardware configuration by Randy Suess. Their motivation appears to have been be partly boredom on a snowy day, and partly to provide a way for members of the Chicago area CACHE computer user group to automatically upload newsletter articles.

In the 1980’s, before the Internet was popularized, bulletin board systems became increasingly popular as a base for communications between geographically dispersed users who accessed the BBS over telephone lines. Thousands of BBSs sprang up across North America and other locations, many becoming tremendously useful, lively virtual communities. The BBS Software Directory has assembled a list of more then 700 different BBS programs created for various operating systems and purposes over the years.

Resources. The following resources provide more information on BBSs:

FidoNet. The FidoNet BBS was created by Tom Jennings in San Francisco in 1983, released in June, 1984, and provided a new level of BBS capability to home users, with a Usenet-like messaging system that ran on standard IBM PC compatible computers running the DOS 2.0 operating system or higher. The availability of FidoNet on a PC instantly provided powerful BBS system administrator capability to tens of thousands of individual users with home systems, and quickly resulted in the growth of FidoNet systems around the world. FidoNet’s packet-based, store-and-forward technology worked as well as it did on the Internet, and FidoNet’s rapid growth paralleled the growth of the Usenet and BITNET.

FidoNet was incorporated as a company in 1986, causing the network to break into a number of separate groups when many users disagreed with the decision to make it a commercial product, and many FidoNet administrators continued to use the FidoNet software to establish sites on independent networks. In 1987, UUPC software was released for the MS DOS operating system, thereby enabling the connection of FidoNet to the Usenet. Many Usenet groups began to be carried on FidoNet, but not many groups were regularly copied the other way. Growth continued, but slowed.

According to Odd de Presno, in June, 1993, there were 24,800 FidoNet sites around the world, serving an estimated 1.56 million users. In 1998, FidoNet had about 30,000 nodes world wide, and it remains a vibrant online community into the 21’st century.

Resources. The following resources provide more information on FidoNet: