Way back in the 1980s and early 1990s, before the internet reigned supreme, many PC owners dialed up Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes), which were other PCs running special software that allowed users to connect and share messages, play games, or download files.
While few BBSes remain today compared to their height in the early-mid 1990s, one can still connect to a BBS using the internet. Thanks to the antique text-only protocol called telnet, you can use a terminal emulator program to start BBSing just like the glory days.
Why would you want to do that, you ask? Well, among my group of Twitter friends—all vintage computer enthusiasts—we do it as a hobby for nostalgia’s sake. We do it to share messages with a tight-knit group of people and have fun. If you’re more libertarian-minded, you might even pursue BBSes as a way to gather on the ‘Net outside the purview of the usual data-scarfing giants like Google or Facebook.
And about that whole net neutrality issue—well, I’m not going to even pretend that BBSes can replace the modern web, but they feel like safe place for people who want out of the usual toxic online rat race.
So how do you do connect? I recommend using a telnet terminal program that supports IBM PC color ANSI graphics. SyncTERM is a very nice BBS terminal program for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X that supports traditional IBM PC fonts and ANSI graphics.
And if you’re a vintage computer fan like me and have an old machine sitting around, you can even use a miraculous device called WiFi232, developed by Paul Rickards, to connect. WiFi232 simulates a modem but actually creates a telnet connection, allowing you to BBS on the internet with vintage machines like the Apple II or old IBM PCs.
With all that in mind, I thought it would be fun to create a list of neat modern BBSes for you to check out. I asked a handful of BBSing friends for recommendations, which are compiled below. To find even more, check out the Telnet BBS Guide. Have fun in BBS land!
Here we see a shot of the ever-popular Particles BBS on a vintage Apple IIgs computer captured by Eric Nelson. Numerous people mentioned Particles as a favorite when I asked. Nelson used the aforementioned WiFi232 device to pull this off, but you can just as easily connect to Particles via SyncTERM or another telnet program.
When asked why he enjoys this BBS, Nelson wrote, “It’s my favorite because it’s reliable (always up) and works with whatever platform I currently am calling from. It has PETSCII for the Commodore systems and ANSI for all the rest. Particles! is a heavily trafficked system and it will easily have 60-100 new messages a week. I’ve never seen any type of trolls there and everyone is friendly and helpful.”