BBS Computer

Identity: The 90’s Zoom Room

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Today, most of all communication between friends, family, and peers is taken for granted. We can easily send emails and text messages back and forth with others for hours on end. In the early 1980s into the 1990s, a computerized bulletin board system (BBS) was created to send messages to other users and create social networks. Through this system, relationships and communities were crafted all in a terminal program. “Each BBS represented an idiosyncratic dream of what cyberspace could be, a glimpse of the future written in code and accessible from your local telephone jack” (Driscoll, The Modem World, 4). As these were new technologies, Driscoll describes that people were excluded from other media systems and that BBS was an accessible way to connect with networks. The era of BBSs allowed for exploration of the more futuristic World Wide Web to follow. 

The BBS that I chose to research to develop a further understanding is of a BBS called the Iowa Student Computer Association (ISCA) BBS. This system was based out of the University of Iowa that opened in 1989 and closed in 2001. This BBS had over 6000 active users and even had a “waiting room” when the queue was too busy. All students and staff had access to this BBS because it was on the university’s mainframe computer. Faculty and staff probably started using the BBS for games and learning in this new era. After they saw the possibilities, they turned it into a large conference platform for users. It became more into reality through the use of dial-up file services, but their goal was to use the BBS for this reason. This reminds me of the more modern company, Zoom. They saw the potential for leading relationships and communication on a connected system, but in this case, it is through a terminal rather than the internet. 

Identity is the overarching value of beliefs and affinities that categorize and define individuals or objects. This is a crucial aspect within the circuit of culture as it leads to decision-making and can explain why people do the things they do. The ISCABBS was started and grew due to its identity and functionality. This was a large free BBS and attracted students’ interest. Students would put flyers around campus promoting the BBS that could be accessed in the university’s computer lab along with their very own t-shirts that said, “BBS1: A meeting of the minds.” They created a community of educated and optimistic students that wanted to contribute to the BBS. According to Driscoll, “the design of BBS networks reflected the social needs of human communities” (Driscoll, The Modem World, 27) and this BBS did just that. It brought the student body closer together and allowed them to communicate. Since it was only college students and associates, there was a bonded community where others felt like a part of a whole. This association probably met once a week to further the BBS and its usage on campus. Students at other universities might have known about the Univerity of Iowa’s BBS and thought that these students were ahead of their times with this integration. However, this eludes to the students being insiders of the BBS and other contributors of this time including students from other universities being outsiders. The BBSs were available in the university’s computer lab, which means there were probably instructions or assistance when accessing the BBS. In an article by the Virtual Community Center, titled Electricminds, the BBS allowed 1000 simultaneous logins and would discuss anything that could be seen discussed in the dining hall. It explains how people would even flirt and even fall in love with each other with the system. There was a framework that established culture and was easily developed through being in the university environment. 

The BBS’s history as one of the fastest growing bulletin board systems is preserved by the Iowa Student Computing Alumni. They even have a Facebook group that remains active today. The impact and the identity revolving around this BBS and its functions generated a community that has lasted over thirty years. An article from Online Highways describes, “the university is home to ISCABBS – an aging public bulletin board system that was the largest internet community in the world prior to the commercialization of the World Wide Web.” This article displays the pride taken by the university for being ahead of its time and advancing during this era. As BBSs influenced migration to the World Wide Web, they created lasting communities due to their inclusiveness. 


“319 BBS List.” n.d. BBS List. Accessed September 28, 2022.

Driscoll, Kevin. 2022. The Modem World: A Prehistory of Social Media. N.p.: Yale University Press.

“Home.” 2018. YouTube.\

“Home.” 2018. YouTube.–602778731366538048/.

“ISCABBS.” n.d. Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias. Accessed September 28, 2022.

n.d. EFF’s (Extended) Guide to the Internet – ISCA BBS. Accessed September 28, 2022.

n.d. electric minds | virtual community directory. Accessed September 28, 2022.

“University of Iowa.” n.d. Introduction to Accessed September 28, 2022.

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