In July of 1994 the Evansville Courier, a local newspaper, decided to create and operate a bulletin board system or a BBS. They did this so they could conduct a field test of people in their area with regular access to computers in order to get a good demographic of the people that are reading their paper. During this time, local newspapers were looking for ways to reach new readers and as technology started to advance, many tried to take advantage of that.
In order to survive, newspapers need to get to know the audience they are reaching, and this was true back then as well. When the Evansville Courier was getting ready for their four-week field test of local BBS users, they were trying to obtain information on what people would want from their service and how much they would be willing to pay for it. The newspaper began the system and started gathering data on July 11th and stopped gathering data on August 7th even though the BBS was still operational after that date. The system provided participants access to national and local news, games, electronic mail, a photo file, classified ads, and discussion forums.
After the test concluded, they found through surveys that almost 92% of users owned their own computer. This showed that most of their participants were in middle- and upper-income classes and were very well educated. They found that users spent most of their time communicating with other users instead of on the news platforms that had available. As a whole, the users had a very positive response to the newspaper’s new venture into BBS. Although most users found the system to be useful, there were also a lot of users who questioned its usefulness. This is most likely because the users went onto the system to communicate and not utilize its news services.
BBS systems were the first step towards the internet we know today and shows that people were ready to make this change into a more internet-driven society. According to a New York Times article written in 1996, there were nearly 60,000 BBS systems across the United States and the industry was worth almost $500 million. These bulletin boards were open to anyone with a personal computer and a communications program to dial telephone numbers. The boards allowed freedom of expression, but there were many that were geared towards either conservative or progressive views. The bulletin boards were a place that people could go and discuss different hobbies and ideas which was a big reason for its rise. Users from around the world can dial a board’s number and see messages left by others and reply to those messages. The bulletin board’s ability to keep messages and send or receive electronic files which makes them a great source of information for its users.