Electronic bulletin boards

Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) were a forerunner of today's Internet.

Bulletin Board Systems tended to be closed systems, which meant people had to dial in directly to the Bulletin Board (which also meant that BBSs tended to used by people from the local community). These dial-up services provided an electronic gathering place for people with similar interests, and included multi-player games, community news, information and chat.

Chats on BBS have been been replaced with ICQ, a programming allowing computer users to traded taxt-based chats with a computer program by Mirabillis. ICQ is one opf the most frequently downloaded computer programs on the Net.

The growth in the Internet and the World Wide Web has resulted in the expansion of many of these services, and some now provide Internet access as well as the regular bulletin board features. The smaller bulletin boards, and even many of the larger ones, are usually run by private individuals. Access to many systems is free, except for long-distance phone charges, though advanced features often costs extra.

Although the few remaining BBSs offer 800 numbers, dialing a distant BBS can result in high phone bills. For example, a BBS in Greece offers a huge database of shareware and public domain programs, but downloading from Greece could be terribly expensive. (Fortunately, that BBS also offers Telnet access.)

Through the Internet, BBSs have also found new life on a global scale. Some governments, notably China and Singapore, as well as some Middle Eastern governments, have moved to restrict traffic on the Internet, not only regulating content but demanding that anyone starting a Web site or an Internet Service Provider service be licensed. To avoid these measures, as well as to attempt to support more confidential communication on political issues in particular, dissidents are turning to bulletin boards to spread information within their governments' boundaries and beyond.

How do you find a BBS? Some are listed in search engines and directories on the Web, and many are detailed in magazines devoted to BBS use, including ads in most computer magazines. The best single print source we've found is Telent BBS Guide magazine, a national publication which features lists of BBS numbers by category each month.