A BulletinBoardSystem (BBS) was what "online community" meant in the old days. It would typically offer inter-member messages, conferences and member-supported file stores. Indeed, the whole concept of shareware was built on the back of BulletinBoardSystems?. A BBS was typically owned and operated by a system operator (SysOp) who would pay for the whole thing out of his or her pocket. Members would connect through dial up modems. Usually the members would identify themselves with crazy handles (i.e. aliases, nicknames like "Binary Rogue").
Most BBSes ran off a BBS package such as Maximus (common in Canada) or Wildcat! or something similar. These packages offered an Wiki:EscapeHatchMechanism called a "door" which would open onto door packages. Common applications were DoorGames.
DoorGames were really interesting because they offered multiplayer gaming. Usually, since most BBSes only had one modem (called a node in the parlance of those times), only one person could log in at a time, so the games had to be turn based. That didn't stop them from being fun. The most popular DoorGame ever was LegendOfTheRedDragon (LORD) by SethAble?.
Over time, it became obvious to sysops that they should combine their message areas and mail systems into one network. The most popular such network was called FidoNet.
The first BulletinBoardSystem was CBSS now Chinet (http://www.chinet.com). Nowadays, the old dial up systems are obsolete, cheap, deregulated Internet access having replaced direct dial up. Dial up systems are relegated to die hards and law breakers--it's harder to trace the private networks created over plain old telephone lines. However, that hasn't stopped some people from carrying the torch forward with Internet versions.
The best systems are the hardest ones to find, naturally. And they almost universally all require telnet access. A Web BBS just misses the point. -- SunirShah
Why does a Web BBS miss the point? Is the point community, or nostalgia?
It depends on what you consider to be the BBS's greatest asset. --NickBensema?
BBSes differ from most of the Web's offering in the following ways.
There was (and still is!) a rather significant - albeit self-segregated - organized, underground BBS culture. It's important to realize that, for many years, files would move about the world through one BBS at a time. Public domain and/or shareware programs(PD) and pirated software ("warez") moved through their own separate channels.
In the world of pirated software, a "source" would obtain newly-minted commercial software packages. He (or she) would then transfer the file to a distro group, who would have connections to copy-protection crackers, if necessary. Distro groups would also add identity tags, frequently embedded as "file_id.diz" files into compressed archives (pre-pkZIP, archives such as LZH and ARC were common). Couriers in the distro group would be responsible to ferry the cracked & packaged software to individual "0-day" boards, whose mission it was to distribute only the newest, most tantalizing commercial packages. Eventually, software would wind its way down through the ranks of decreasingly "elite" BBSs.
To access one of these boards, one had to pass a rigorous application process. In addition to submitting personal information (that, as a rule, one never filled in correctly!) one had to know their distro-group acronyms and black-arts general knowledge (For example, PWA, RISC, ACID, POTS, and 6.5536mhz). In addition to listing user references (in the form of a Handle), an applicant would be required to write a short essays, usually to answer "What can you contribute to this board?" On the most "elite" boards, a new member's application would be displayed for public voting.
Who you know - and who knew your Handle - was quite important.
All this, to be the first kid at school with a fresh copy of "King's Quest!"
Why is this important? Well, in the world of elite self-segregating teenagers, it was quite a feat to establish this system of hierarchy and communication, and to establish the support mechanisms necessary for a successful "reputation."
I should mention:
Not all files and messages were always shared by the same users: BBSs had hierarchical user access levels. The more sensitive, damaging information would have had fewer users with privilege. interesting?
I'd add that most BBSs did not traffic in illegal files and the sysops of BBSs that operated according to the law, including me, would be very irritated by said young teenagers occasionally logging in and begging to gain access to non-existent "warez" and "elite" areas on the BBS.
I ran a FidoNet board for a while; it's main focus was "echomail" (the equivalent of newsgroups) messaging but I had some shareware files; and there were many boards that specialized in door games, shareware files, and echomail. (With echomail probably being less popular among users than door games or shareware/pd files; admittedly.) It was a lot of fun, most users didn't seem to mind that there weren't the latest commercial games available - especially when stuff like Wolfenstein 3D started getting distributed as shareware. :-) The echomail, as occasionally flame-filled as it would get, tended to have a higher signal-to-noise ratio due to moderators than the typical Internet forum, wiki possibly excepted, is today. Though perhaps that's seeing things through nostalgia-filed eyes...