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— A few years ago, before that file resource known as the Information Superhighway or Internet was released to the public, local bulletin board systems (BBSes) ruled. The message bases were full of opinions and facts supplied by various callers. Files were leeched on a daily basis by intellectuals and porn-hogs alike. Those BBSes "hip" enough to have multiple lines had chat rooms; even 20-line chat boards were ringing busy, the faithful users happily glued to their keyboards.

When word about the Internet's release to the public spread, more people were drawn to the World Wide Web. Former BBS enthusiasts moved on, claiming the BBS scene was obsolete. Those who continued to call local boards found fewer busy signals; finally the system operator deemed the board a ghost town and shut down.

Despite the Internet's growing popularity as a worldwide BBS, some refused to give up on the local BBS scene. A few SysOps kept their bazaars running, and those loyalists with modems continued to call. Below are thoughts on the dwindling San Diego BBS scene.

System Operators

"Grey," SysOp of Anarchy X BBS (619-528-2718)

When did you get into the BBS scene?

Spring of 1986. Circa Chernobyl.

How long have you been opping?

I've "helped out" as far back as 1987; I was a full SysOp in 1993.

Does your board have a theme?

It's always been more pro-Internet than other BBSes. We offer a wider range of Internet services -- UNIX shells, Web pages, PPP -- but for the most part, the BBS exists primarily as a chat room.

How do you feel about the Internet?

I personally love it, though its breadth of options sometimes runs counter to actually finding what you're looking for.

Has it affected your board's popularity in some way?

Some people use the BBS as an isp [internet service provider]. Some users telnet in from other cities or states; it's overall broadened the userbase.

Any advantages/disadvantages of a BBS, as compared to the Internet?

The biggest disadvantage to a BBS, especially one where the users are paying, is that the Internet offers a much broader spectrum of services and interest niches with one flat fee a month, and that fee is often comparable to the fee charged by the bigger BBSes. The largest advantage [to the BBS] is that there's a better sense of community, since the users are from one geographic location and are more likely to interact and see each other regularly.

Any more comments?

The BBS user demographic has changed quite a bit since the days of the 300bps Commodore-64 systems. Originally, the typical user was a high school- to college-age male who had a computer because he wanted to work with them or because he liked computer games. Now, computers are nearly as ubiquitous as televisions, and many households have them -- and so the average BBS user resembles the "average person," whatever that is.

"Kokopelli," SysOp of Wild World BBS

How long have you been opping?

I've been operating a BBS for close to five years, but not consecutively. Operating a BBS has its ups and downs. Sometimes it's difficult to get callers, and it can be very tempting to take the BBS down.

Does your board have a theme?

I'm not sure I can describe my theme; perhaps I even lack a theme. My goal, though, is to provide an all-ages board that is fun for kids as well as adults. The theme of my board used to be reggae related, so you can still see remnants of the old theme. I want to keep everything exciting, so when I get a chance, I try and change things around, such as menus and message bases, and I try to add new BBS games too.

When did you get into the BBS scene?

I believe it started in 1993 or 1992. My dad had just purchased a 2400/9600 fax modem. Then, the BBS scene was really kicking, and there were tons of BBSes to call. There were BBSes with many different themes, and many reasons to call them. Now there are only a few BBSes worth calling. This was back when 2400 was an okay speed, and only a few people had 14,400 modems.

How do you feel about the Internet?

I like the Internet from time to time, although it can be difficult to reach files of a particular theme. Of course, the Internet offers a lot of things, and it can be hard to sort through everything. I do think, however, that the Internet is overrated. I go on the Internet for a little bit only to get tired of it and not use it for a while. Try doing a search for "Cigarette Butts," and you'll get every adult advertisement you could possibly think of.

Has it affected your board's popularity?

Yes, the Internet has immensely affected my board's popularity. The thing is, everyone hears about the Internet, and everyone wants the Internet. No one wants to take the time to call something they've never heard of. Before the Internet was popular, everyone could be found on BBSes; now that's hardly the case. Three of us, all system operators, are attempting to re-educate people and get them to call our BBSes and see what we have to offer.

Any advantages/disadvantages of a BBS, as compared to the Internet?

With a BBS, a free one in particular, you won't pay a monthly fee; with the Internet, you always pay whether you use it that month or not. BBSes tend to follow certain themes, so it's pretty easy to pick out your theme and call that BBS because it offers a theme you like, and thus files and messages you want to read. BBSes rarely carry advertisements for other boards, not like the Internet with tons of advertisements. With a BBS, you're led into the heart right after you call; the Internet can make you bounce all over the place, and there's a good chance you won't end up where you wanted to be. The local BBS has many people on it, normally from the same area as you are. The advantage of the Internet, though, is that you can get so many more people in one place at one time than on a BBS. Transfer rates are better on a BBS; one can download the same file, same size, off a BBS faster than off of an FTP site on the Net.

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