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Bulletin Board Systems (BBS's)

From 1992 thru 1996, I operated several Bulletin Board Systems (BBS's) in the Vancouver, BC area, including the popular Barney's DeathCamp (known as BDC), and the official BBS for my high school, Eagle Communications.

Barney's DeathCamp was the tongue-in-cheek name coined by a friend, Wes, who was planning to start a BBS of his own. When he told me he had abandoned his plans to run a BBS, I asked if I could use the name and the various ANSI art title screens and menus that he had created, and he agreed.

Initially the BBS used the software TriBBS but I soon switched to RemoteAccess and FrontDoor, as I found RemoteAccess was much more in tune with how I liked to manage things. The BBS was a member of several mail networks, including the very popular global FidoNet, as well as several smaller regional networks including DirtNet, LaroNet, SourceNet and MatrixNet.

By 1994 the BBS had attracted more than 800 users with over one hundred regulars calling at least once a week. I only ever had a few BBS door games but they proved very popular, with a significant number of users dialling in daily to take their turns in games. A few users relied on the BBS for their mail, but usually most users would call in to chat with me (eg, the SysOp). I usually had a lot of spare time in those days, and I spent a great deal of it chatting with other people, often other kids my age.

Sadly, the BBS met it's unfortunate demise when I was forced to shut the BBS down in July 1995 due to forces beyond my control. I briefly restarted the BBS in 2001 and again 2005-2006 as a Telnet-only system, but by that point my interest in running a BBS had waned and BBSs in general had declined in popularity.

History

A few years after my parents bought us a new computer (an IBM PS/1), my brothers gradually lost interest in the computer and I moved it into my bedroom where I would spend a lot of my time dialling up local BBSs. By 1992, my parents had grown tired of me occupying the phone line for hours at a time and so we agreed that I would get my own phone line installed, the costs being paid for out of my allowance.

It didn't take long before I set up a simple BBS - partly for the fun of it, but also as I was a computer lab assistant at my high school and frequently would need to fetch files from my home computer. Within a few months I had decided to expand into running a full-fledged BBS and spent a considerable amount of time learning the intricacies of configuring an operating a BBS, establishing a file base, configuring message networks, configuring doors and games and submitting a listing to the local BBS list (maintained by Roxanne Spear).

One challenge the BBS faced in it's earlier days was that it ran from the only computer I had. As a result of this I couldn't do anything else on the computer when then BBS software was running, which meant that I was forced to take the BBS offline for several hours at a time - particularly when I was heads-down on a major programming project!

Then, one day when I was at a thrift store (my parents were avid fans of visiting thrift stores) I spotted a box that had a collection of computer software in it including DesqView - complete with manuals - for only a couple of dollars. I had never heard of DesqView before but I bought it with the hopes that it would solve my dilemma and when it tried it for the first time I was absolutely floored - now I could actually use the computer while the BBS was running! This was a quantum leap forward for the BBS, as I could now run it 24/7 without interruption. Naturally this resulted in more activity on the BBS and the userbase grew rapidly.

The Golden Years

It didn't take long before I had an established user base of regular callers. Although the BBS didn't have a large file base, there were several BBS doors including the popular BRE and LORD online games which attracted many users.

My friend Alastair joined me as a co-Sysop and helped me build several iterations of ANSI screens for the BBS. On April 1, 1994 we launched an April Fool's joke that involved creating distorted ANSI screens and temporarily changing the BBS name to "Laffy's Breath Ant", much to the confusion of everyone. The joke actually backfired somewhat as it seemed to coincide with a visit by Roxanne Spear (who operated the de facto BBS list for the Vancouver area) and the altered name ended up in the official BBS list for awhile.

Being a high school kid meant that I had a lot of spare time, and as I was usually tinkering around on the computer for hours on end meant that odds were very good that I was around with free time to chat for hours on end. As a result of this, I had a good relationship with a large percentage of my users, and I made some good friends as a result. After awhile regular users learned they could page me at any late hour and more often than not I would jump onto the computer to indulge them in a chat - frequently as late as 3 or 4am.

Decline

In August 1995, at the peak of the BBS's popularity, I was forced to shut it down due to a conflict over the phone line with my mother. I moved out shortly thereafter, but I had always intended to restart the BBS as soon as I was established somewhere else.

I attempted to stay in contact with regular users, informing them that the BBS would return someday and I intended to keep my promise. However, by this point I was already well aware that the Internet was beginning to replace many of the functions that BBS's served, and I wondered if BBS's would continue to serve a purpose in this new era.

Rebirth

Six years later, in 2001, I decided that if I didn't make an effort to fulfil my promise of resurrecting the BBS, I probably wouldn't have another opportunity. I also missed being a SysOp and the enjoyment of running a BBS but by this point the Internet had completely changed the landscape and only a tiny fraction of the original BBS's remained in the Vancouver area. It's no coincidence that the decline of BBS's coincided with the Internet's growing popularity, but I was sure there were some diehard users that would still appreciate my bringing BDC back into operation.

So I collected the ANSI and ASCII art, configuration files and software from my archives and set it up on a spare computer. The new BBS would be telnet-only, which was fine with me since I didn't have any spare phone lines, and besides modems were cumbersome, slow, and largely obsolete by this point. The BBS went online and ran for a short time, but at this point my life was undergoing a substantial upheaval as I had recently got married and the company I had founded was suffering from the effects of the dot-com boom and bust, and I wasn't able to properly devote the time and energy required.

Rebirth (take two)

After another four years, in 2005 I decided to properly re launch the BBS. By this point I was employed at a data centre, and as part of my employee benefits they allowed me to host some of my servers there. I set up FreeBSD on a spare machine, and I installed a recently-discovered open source clone of the RemoteAccess software that I had originally used called EleBBS which included telnet support natively.

The final version of BDC ran for a bit over a year and a half until the end of 2006 when the server hosting the BBS failed. By this point I realized that I had largely lost interest; BBS's were no longer en vogue and besides virtually everyone who used the original BDC BBS had probably long forgotten about it.

I hope that this page can provide some information to former members of the BBS who are curious about it's demise, and I'll certainly never forget the thrill and enjoyment of running various BBS's over the years. I'm very thankful that I had the opportunity to do so during the relatively short period of history when they were popular.

References


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