Computer Time Travel: Using a BBS Over the Phone

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Over thirty years ago, before the internet and before the first PC, something small started that would greatly effect the history of modern communications and computers. This was the Bulletin Board System, which over time would link together the world and lay the foundation for the way we use computers today.

Even though it's been over ten years since the decline of the BBS, there's still a small community of people who love to get out their old phone modems and dial in to the few remaining BBS's. And if you feel like taking a trip back to 1989, why not get out a modem too?

          But before you begin, here's a few things to remember:
                             
* Modems can be slow. Very slow. So if you're impatient, this probably isn't for you.
* There are much easier ways to do this, like using Telnet over the internet. But that's just not the same.
  * Old technology doesn't always work with new technology. And if you're using Windows, you probably won't
have much luck with this if you're using anything newer than XP.
* This probably won't be very fun for you unless you're interested in older technology and computers.

That being said, lets get in our time machines and begin.
                                         

Step 1: What You'll Need


It doesn't take much to get this to work. But before you begin, you're going to need a few things.

       
          What you'll need:
* A computer, preferably old
* A phone modem, either external or a softmodem (a PCI-card modem)
* A phone line
* Software, such as HyperTerminal (Comes with Windows XP and earlier)
* Some computer knowledge.


Even though there are many other things you could have for this, this instructable focuses on the most basic and easiest way to get yourself connected to a BBS over a phone line. Usually, I'd prefer using Linux and other programs for this. But to keep this simple, we're going to be using Windows XP and the HyperTerminal program. But if you want to do this with other software, it should be pretty easy to translate this.

Step 2: Setting Up


If you have all you need, then it's time to get started.
First,  you need to get things set up. If you have a computer with a phone modem built in, or one with a PCI-card modem, then all you need to do is plug the modem into your phone line. And if you're using an older external modem, such as a serial modem, then follow the instructions that came with it and get it set up.

If you managed to get your modem connected and plug into a phone line, then you're already done with the hardware part of this.

Now all you have to do is start up HyperTerminal or the software you're using.
To start HyperTerminal in Windows XP, open the Start menu, and go to All Programs>Accessories>Communications and click on HyperTerminal. And that's it. Now all you have to do is set up a new connection.

When you start the program, a box should pop up that lets you set up a new connection. Enter a name for the connection ("Test Connection" or the name of the BBS) and click ok. Now enter the area code and phone number of the BBS, and click ok again.
After that, I usually click "Modify..."  and change the settings for the number. This might be necessary for some modems, but it also just helps you connect faster.

Once you're in the Modify menu, uncheck the box that says Use Country/region code and area code. When you do this, only the Phone Number box should be available. Enter the BBS's number into this box, including the area code, and click ok.

Now all you have to do is press Dial, and you're on your way back to 1992. Once you hear modem noises, just sit and be patient. Eventually the BBS will appear in HyperTerminal.

Step 3: Now What?


If you've successfully connected to a BBS, you're probably wondering what to do. If you use to use BBS's, or you've used them with Telnet over the internet, then you probably don't need this section. Skip ahead for a list of phone numbers that lead you to BBS's.

Even though they're not as large, fancy, or as fast as modern websites, BBS's have hundreds of things that can keep you entertained for hours. Good ones usually have:

* Email
* Chat
* Doors (Games you can play on the BBS)
* Text File Collections (Mostly old files about hacking, phreaking, and computer related things)
* ASCII/ANSI art collections
* Downloadable file collections (Games, pictures, files, and anything else that can be used on a computer)

On most BBS's, you're asked to make an account when you first connect. Usually you'll need to make an account to use things listed above, but that's not a problem at all. Accounts are usually free and fast to make, and usually give you a special Email address you can use for whatever you feel like. (Email on the BBS's works the same as internet email, because they're the same thing. You can email your BBS email address from Yahoo or Gmail.)

Some BBS's also use a precursor to modern email and internet communications, FidoNet. FidoNet probably won't be much use to most people just looking for fun, but you'll probably see a lot of it, and it's good to know what everything's talking about. Look in the next section for links about FidoNet.

Step 4: Links and Phone Numbers


Now that you've read through this instructable, you'll hopefully want to connect to a BBS. So here are a few phone numbers for my favorite BBS's, and also some links to lists of BBS's, plus things relating to them.

And also, thanks for reading through my instructable. Even though it's easy to connect to a BBS, and you could probably do it without reading how to, I thought it would be a good idea to write an insturctable on the subject. Not really to show you how to do it, but to bring it to your attention. BBS's and dial-up modems are a very important part of the history of computers and the internet, and in an age where we can touch a screen and be connected to the world, it's easy to forget where all of this came from. And if we forget about that section of history, it could easily be lost forever.

So, as the modern world looks away from this obsolete part of the past, why not take a minute to enjoy it before it's gone. Here are some numbers to help you keep the past alive for a little while longer.

Electronic Chicken - (416)273-7230
       Idea Link - (301)949-5764
      Mezzanine - (940)565-9165
     Ye Olde Inn - (281)272-8162

Diamond Mine Online - BBS Resources - http://www.dmine.com/

FidoNet Wikipedia Article - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FidoNet

BBS Wikipedia Article - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulletin_board_system


And if that's not enough for you, why not start your own BBS?


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    68 Discussions

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    echicken

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Wow! I'm used to getting a few calls each day, a few new users each week. I couldn't fathom why traffic to my BBS seemed to have increased by like 1000% over the last 24 hours until I started noticing "instructables.com" turning up as the answer to the "Where did you hear about this system?" question. Now I understand!

    To the author: thank you for posting this. While these systems are of little practical use these days, they're a fun hobby for those of us who continue to operate and use them, and they're a huge part of computer history. It's nice to see some new people exploring the BBS, and to see others returning for a hit of nostalgia.

    It's worth noting that while in the example HyperTerminal is used to call my BBS, there are other terminal emulators out there (some that even continue to work with modems and other serial devices) that will do a better job of handling the colours and "graphics" that you'll find on bulletin board systems. And while dialing in will give you the true vintage experience, most bulletin board systems these days are accessible over the internet, via the telnet protocol - so those of you without modems can try it out too.

    (If you'd like to try a somewhat more 'BBS-friendly' terminal emulator, check out SyncTerm: http://syncterm.bbsdev.net/)

    Thanks, everyone, for stopping by!

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    Germanm19

    2 years ago

    I remember those great times conecting to a bbs and downloading stuff. Great article!

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    camokub

    7 years ago on Introduction

    I ran a Wildcat BBS back in my Junior High days (at about the age the '95ers that are posting)... ah, the days of FidoNet relays, TradeWars 2002... all fond memories. Downloading software from File Repositories long before FTP: DigDug for PC, SkyGlobe by ol' KlassM software... Spending allowance on a second phone line for the old AT to run that second line so you, as all-powerful SysOP, could chat with your two buds online. RipTerm! RIPScript! I eventually downloaded a hacked version of Galacticomm, but then by that time AOL started its meteoric rise, my upline FidoNet relay had a internet gateway (my first email address was wl-wakko-poc@worldconnect.net)...

    5 replies
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    BrianJ67camokub

    Reply 2 years ago

    Dude RipTerm was awesome! I can remember connecting to some boards that utilized that display, and it was truly another world! I would like to see some 'rip enabled' boards to come back!

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    kcbirdercamokub

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    How funny this all is. My husband's employer bought TradeWars and hired the couple who developed it. The company ran a bunch of "metro" sites for a while...Metropolis BBS in a bunch of cities (Big 10 and Big12 towns, and more.) The company still owns MajorMudd if you know of someone who'd like to buy it and run with it.

    (Waving to the sysops)

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    Treknologycamokub

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    RIPScript was like PostScript for BBSes. I'm surprised there hasn't been a similar protocol introduced into HTTP.

    Now I just have to go dig out the old 300 baud ACCOUSTIC modem ...

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    shaunak

    7 years ago on Introduction

    I was born in 1990 so I missed all this cool stuff. Thanks for sharing this and letting us young 'uns know how things worked in 9 B.G. [Before Google :P]

    3 replies
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    Kasm279shaunak

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, for me being born in 1995 Kinda sucks, because I missed all of this neat stuff!

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    BrianJ67Kasm279

    Reply 2 years ago

    Thanks for respecting the good 'ol BBS Days!

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    BrianJ67shaunak

    Reply 2 years ago

    You're welcome!

    Thanks for respecting the good 'ol BBS Days!

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    MaXoR

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Oh boy,

    I remember back when I first got a hold of a 33 mhz pentium, that monochromatic screen, and lets not forget pong!

    Although I really got started with BBs's when I received my $2,499 Pentium I 75Mhz beauty. Figuring at that time, that I had already spent enough on my hardware, sought to find cheap software.... and oh boy did I ever...he he he!

    I remember the first play of my pirated Duke Nukem 3D, when 3D was simply 2D pictures that oriented themselves to your current view, and resized (Amazing tech wasn't it!)

    Thank you so much for this. I am only 24, so that sure does show you how far we've come!

    1 reply
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    BrianJ67MaXoR

    Reply 2 years ago

    I had a packard bell intel pentium 33mhz processor with something like 4 megs of ram (i think 4 megs of ram), and eventually upgraded to a 66mhz processor, I remember doing the install, it was flawless, but because I was only a teenager, I had forgot to put the glue to the heat sink to the cpu, but eventually got it before the 66mhz processor overheated. Them days 8-|

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    nanosec12

    7 years ago on Introduction

    What a great trip back through time !!

    I do miss the BBS communications, where posting to a 'national' board meant that other people would not see your post the the next upload (usually at midnight) so proper conversations took days going each way. the anticipation was worth the wait, but we are so spoiled now with IM, Twitter, and RSS feeds.

    5 of 5

    3 replies
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    danneauxsnanosec12

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, I find it unnerving when I post a comment on facebook and someone replies within seconds! I can remember flame wars and sitting at work all day waiting to get home and see if I could connect to one of the local BBS's to read a reply.
    I think back then I though more about what I was writing too; making sure I typed exactly what I MEANT to say. When it took a day or three for a reply to a board post you didn't want to waste time being misunderstood.

    I actually ran a WWIV BBS for a few years; the cost of the second phone line was worth the fun.

    Anyone remember Prodigy?ANSI graphics and being charged per message! Gotta love the old days.

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    BrianJ67danneauxs

    Reply 2 years ago

    Prodigy, I used to get those and AOL disks in the mail all the time! Yep, I was one to get those high phone bills using them too. At least they had my area code for this list of phone numbers to call-in to...Otherwise, I would have probably paid more for the phone bill.

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    kcbirderdanneauxs

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Prodigy was awesome, mostly because it was a community for ANYONE, not just gamers or geeks or a niche. I got lots of recipes from Prodigy in the cooking section. If you google my old prodigy ID, dtcm33b, you'll still find it attached to recipes snagged by all kinds of sites. I had fun on the birding discussion board and the rubber stamping board. It was great.

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    mstar

    7 years ago on Introduction

    I had a 960 baud modem attached to my old Ataria 800 machine back around the beginning of time. Download a simple gif file of Mickey Mouse took the better part of a day and errors were common, causing you to start all over from scratch. It was fun back then, but also very frustrating at times.

    1 reply
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    BrianJ67mstar

    Reply 2 years ago

    ha, ha, I remember that, and oh, what happens if that was an animated gif? Oh the pain (when you get disconnected when you have reached your time limit)