Monday, January 16, 2012

The Earth Club BBS

Once in awhile I reminisce about those early days of online socializing. I have pretty much always had a fascination with computers and the many things they could be programmed to do. Even in the early 1980's my best friend Layne and I spent many hours tinkering with a Commodore VIC-20 in my mom's garage which we converted to our hangout. In high school we took a Computer Maintenance course which I actually won an award for because in those days I believed I would someday become a computer repair technician but fate had other ideas. But what I wanted to write about today is a brief period in my mid 20s when I ran a little BBS initially started on a 386SX computer in 1992 called The Earth Club. It was located at FidoNet Node 1:130/507 and existed in Arlington, Texas with three phone lines at it's height on which people could dial in at the awesome speeds of, initially 2400bps and eventually 14400 and ultimately 56k by the time of the board's demise in 1995. I had a great time SysOping this board on Aki Antman's SuperBBS code in those wild west days of online life. We played door games like TradeWars, Legend of the Red Dragon, Usurper and many others. I think at the highest level I had 50 door games available to play, hundreds of FidoNet message boards and a files area with all sorts of freeware, shareware and other files for people to download. We had a chat system so up to 4 callers and myself could be online at one time to chat with each other in real time. All the graphics were ANSI back in those days until, toward's the end, some enterprising individuals came up with another graphics format caller RIP (Remote Imaging Protocol) graphics and a guy named Seth (last name escapes me at the moment) came up with another BBS format based on those vector graphics called RoboBBS which I also installed and gave to callers as an option when they first logged in. So they could call in and FrontDoor would ask if they wanted to use the ANSI format of the BBS (SuperBBS) or the awesome RIP Graphics (RoboBBS).

About that time though, suddenly this Internet thing which had, up until that point, mostly only been available to people who were at Universities or worked in some industry with access started becoming available to any everyday schmo like myself who could pony up $20 per month for access to log into an ISP and explore the amazing world of the internet. About that time a web browser called Netscape was allowing web pages to be viewed with formated text and (gasp) graphics! Boy oh boy! How were we ever going to keep them on the farm after this? My little BBS offered a file library of some 40 Megs of files. The internet had FTP sites with seemingly endless files available and more being added all the time. My little BBS had maybe 50 games but only a handful that were popular. The internet had a bunch of games called MUDs, MUSHes and MOOs with hundreds of players online at once. My little BBS had hundreds of message boards. The internet had thousands of UseNet newsgroups. My little BBS could host up to 4 people in chat. The internet could host unlimited chatrooms via IRC (Internet Relay Chat).

Yeah, I knew my goose was cooked so I put the BBS up for sale and a guy from my work answered the ad and came by to pick up the PC (I was buying a new one) with all the files, modems, etc. He ran the BBS for a little while longer before shutting it down too. In the meantime I dove heavily into learning all about this HTML stuff, then Javascript, later some C and Java as well because all of those developments were fascinating to me and I thought I could build so much cool stuff with them, and I did for awhile, but eventually moved on to other things. Where we have come to is indeed a fascinating place but sometimes I still miss the sound of those old modems logging in and jumping up to the computer to see who has logged in to the BBS so I could be available for chat, help them out, whatever. I know there are still a few BBSes around that you can TelNet into for that bit of nostalgia but somehow it's just not the same. Those were some wild times back then and the world was changing very rapidly and it was exciting. Now, it seems that the internet has grown to a point of maturity and more and more people are seeking to control it. Gone are those wild, shoot from the hip days when a guy in his garage, or basement or bedroom could throw together something new and become a huge sensation as people come to play with whatever new toy he has created. Or are they gone altogether? Maybe some of that pioneering spirit lives on but we have to fight ever harder against those people who are trying to crush the little guys and control the internet to suit only their own desires. It's a constant battle but one I see worth fighting because only in freedom can innovation flourish.


An Old List of BBSes from the 817 Area Code

1 comment:

  1. Anyone else have some BBS and early internet memories to share?