BBSing in the late 1980s. Pioneering times

I was living in LA in the late 1980’s, heard about something online called BBS. This was before everyone was on the internet. A local alt paper published BBS phone numbers. I bought a modem, spend an hour trying to connect, fiddling with geeky modem settings, then the magic happened. I connected to The Ledge BBS and OMG, was looking at a login screen.

That was my beginning of years of BBSing, where I made many friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with. We were pioneers in the online world. BBS started joining together into nets, some hundreds of BBS across the planet. They would swap conference mail at night, so the next morning members could read replies to conference posts coming from all over.

By 1995 the internet was taking over and BBS began fading. We took what we knew and went into cyberspace. BBSing was an amazing time. We were part of something new, changing how people communicate. Yes, there were BBS wars and sometimes the conferences were knock-down, drag-out flame wars. There was also a huge sense of community and that this was something new and important. Shareware, later known as open source, began on BBS. People wrote utilities that could be downloaded for free. BBS are also where online communities began to thrive.

And yesterday I read the bio of a new Facebook friend, Joseph Sheppard, and realized he was the sysop of The Ledge, that very first BBS I connected to!

And while BBS took contributions, it was done for free, for fun, because it was geeky, because it was important.

Joseph explains:

“We formed an association of PCBoard BBS’s called “InterLink”. Sleepy Hollow was the regional hub for the west coast. Each night The Ledge would go offline for an “Event”. During the event, certain maintenance was performed. One of the tasks was to run QWK-Mail. It would scan all of my message bases to find new messages that had been written by Ledge users since the last event. Then it would pack them all into a file called LEDGE.QWK. I had to put together a script with Qmodem to call Sleepy Hollow, and upload the .QWK packet to the QWK-Mail door on Sleepy Hollow, and download a file called LEDGE.REP. Once this was done, the Qmodem script would hang up and terminate, and QWK-Mail would be run again to insert the LEDGE.REP file, which contained new messages from other BBS’s into the Ledge message bases.

To the users of The Ledge, this meant that they could ask a question in one of our local forums and the answer might come back from someone in New York in a day or two. At the time, we all thought it was fantastic that people could communicate like that without making a long distance phone call.

Of course, a lot of long distance and toll calls were being made by the Sysops. We were footing the bill for this enterprise that would soon reach around the world.

Today, I am still active in the online world. I am webmaster for several sites for friends and associates. But, nothing has ever matched the feeling of community we had in the BBS days. I don’t think there will be anything like it again. I enjoy hearing from my former users.”

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