The simple desire to exchange computer data between computers over a telephone line spawned the interesting phenomenon of the electronic bulletin board system (BBS). It was only three years after the birth of the PC that the first BBS came into existan ce. Ward Christensen, a member of a Chicago computer club, pieced together a software program in January 1978 that allowed a Northstar Horizon CP/M personal computer built by his friend Randy Suess, to answer a telephone using a 110-bps mode m.
Modem stands for MOdulator/DEModulator. A modem converts digital signals generated by the computer into analog signals which can be transmitted over a telephone line and transforms incoming analog signals into their digital equivalents. C allers could post messages on this system for subsequent callers to read and the device served as an electronic version of their club bulletin board, where pieces of computer hardware were exchanged or sold.
A typical BBS is actually quite simple. It usually consists of a personal computer, modem, BBS software, and a telephone line. Using a modem, any user can call the BBS, which is setup to automatically answer the call. The user enters his or her name an d password. Finally, a menu is displayed giving the user such options as reading online forums, electronic mail, and file libraries.
More advanced BBS's often include additional telephone lines, connections to networked forums, multiuser chat, and even connections to the Internet.
Currently, there are somewhere around 45,000 BBS's in the United States (over one hundred in the 707 area code). About 12.2 million callers dial into them on a regular basis. Though the majority of the BBS's are free, some charge small amounts for acce ss --usually less than systems such as CompuServe or Prodigy.
Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the BBS community is the ability for free exchange of thoughts. Sex, race, hair-color, style of dress, social class, etc., cannot be transmitted over a phone line. Users are more open-minded and willing to express their true selves -- it is imposible to "judge a book by it's cover" because the cover doesn't exist. One will quickly find that the stereotype of computer users as loners and social misfits is very untrue as well.
One cannot travel very far in the BBS community without coming across new communities, new friendships, and spontaneous acts of kindness among strangers -- something that seems to be lacking in "the real world" these days.
The community has it's own culture, with it's own slang and conduct. However, one should not fear it -- the residents of this community often display a sense of communal support that surprises many newcomers.