Identity: Bulletin Board Systems
Christine Love’s interactive visual novel Digital: A Love Story is a mystery romance set in the world of a 1980s computer connected to the internet using a dial-up modem. The game’s design is a throwback to Commodore’s Amiga Workbench operating system, where players dial in to a series of bulletin board systems, hearing the iconic sound of the era, and along their way set up accounts complete with usernames and passwords to connect with characters to unravel a vast internet conspiracy. Download the game here for a fun look at a bygone digital era and some nostalgic explainers about the internet’s origins in ARPANET, the first computer viruses, and hacker culture.
The second blog assignment focuses on the identities that interacted with and grew alongside this world of bulletin board systems. Who were the people who used these systems? What did they use them for? How did they communicate with each other?
Most of the material that once populated the spaces of BBSs is now lost. Only chance images and remembrances remain, fragments of what once was. But communities have built up around nostalgia for these pre-World Wide Web means of connecting online, and we’ll use these communities as a jumping off point to document the history of BBSs.
First, familiarize yourself with what kind of information is available online about BBS culture. Here’s a helpful list of different resources:
- http://bbslist.textfiles.com/usbbs.html All old BBSs
- https://wwwtxt.org/tagged/img Largest archive of old BBS content. For more, see this story.
- http://sfhqbbs.org/ataribbslist.php Old Atari BBS list
- http://ptbbs.ddns.net:7000/pt.html Cleveland based BBS restored
- https://www.reddit.com/r/bbs/ Reddit BBS sub
- https://www.pcmag.com/news/7-modern-bbses-worth-calling-today A story about still running BBSs
- http://www.vintagecomputing.com/index.php/archives/category/computers/bbs-history Benj Edwards BBS stories
- http://www.zimmers.net/bbs/aabbs.html All American BBSs
- http://www.africa.upenn.edu/BBS_Internet/afro_bbs.html Afronet BBS list
- https://www.telnetbbsguide.com/ Telnet BBS Guide
- http://bbslist.textfiles.com/comments.html List of comments on BBSs
- https://bytecellar.com/category/bbs/ Byte Cellar BBS resources
- http://software.bbsdocumentary.com/ BBS software directory
- https://www.nytimes.com/1992/07/19/business/all-about-electronic-bulletin-boards-it-s-no-longer-just-techno-hobbyists-who.html New York Times story on BBS culture from1992
- http://www.textfiles.com/directory.html Text files on BBSs
Next, choose a single BBS to focus on. It might be a BBS from your area. It might be one whose visual design sticks out to you. It might be one for which we have no visual record available but about which we have first-person accounts. It might be a BBS that we know only by name and telephone number, which requires you to creatively imagine what once was. It’s your choice.
Then, search for articles published on BBS culture from the time period when your BBS was active, roughly between 1980 and 1994 before the takeoff of the World Wide Web. This article from the New York Times is a good example. Try to find local newspaper or magazine coverage. If your BBS was located in Denver, Colorado, maybe look at the Denver Post or other newspapers from the area. If your BBS was from Sydney, Australia, check out the Sydney Morning Herald. If you’re confident translating other languages into English, all the better. Follow wherever your interests take you.
Here are some helpful databases to help you find relevant newspaper articles:
- Nexis Uni (for English-language newspapers from around the world)
- Proquest US Newsstream (for US-based newspapers)
For individual newspaper archives and other databases, see the Johns Hopkins University Libraries Databases list. Resources include the archives of the Baltimore Afro-American and the Times of India, as just a couple of examples.
You should cite two newspaper stories, while providing identifying information in the flow of your discussion: name of newspaper, date of issue, and author and name of story where applicable. If you can link to a freely available web resource, please do, but if it’s behind a proxy, the information above will suffice. One of your articles should be geographically connected to the BBS you choose, but the other can come from a regional or national newspaper.
- Choose one BBS.
- Explain the culture and identities associated with the BBS.
- Cite two historical newspaper articles, one of which must be geographically connected to your BBS.
- Provide links to resources where applicable.
- Credit images where possible by providing a caption.
All assignments should be submitted as text documents on Blackboard and to the blog on the course site. For further instructions on posting to the blog, check out this explainer.
Due September 25 by 5:00 p.m. EST.