I'm Brett Slatkin and this is where I write about programming and related topics. You can contact me here or view my projects.

11 September 2012

I dream of BBSes

About 18 years ago I dialed in to my first BBS. I was an annoying kid with a modem and an extra phone line. The computer was a IIsi with RAM Doubler. The handshake was ZMODEM. The timing of my entry into this world quickly evolved into MUDs, FirstClass, and eventually Hotline.

What was magical about these systems was the sense of community that it could create. You felt like you had a real connection with the people you were participating with. I think the reason was that we were on the same page. It wasn't like Facebook, where everyone is spraying messages into the ether, hoping for acknowlegement. It was 10-20 people contributing to a single shared stream. It was much more like real conversation.

In contrast, I've never enjoyed IRC because I feel like it has no soul. The communities I've found there are too large and not tight-knit enough. Everything is in public and anyone can join. The conversation history is permanent via logger bots. What I loved about Hotline was using it with a small group. We shared stories, jokes, URLs of the day, proto-memes-- whatever. It was a medium for co-experiencing the Internet as it bloomed.

Google Reader's social features gave me the same good feeling (before they shut those down-- boo!). I used to share items on Reader with a small group of friends. We felt free to comment how we wanted, since comments were private. This made for much more lively discussion, political conversations, and sharing of silly guilty-pleasure websites. You felt safe there because it was such a small group. Alas, it is no more, and you can't reproduce how it felt with G+.

I've heard people describe their time on LiveJournal to be similar to this. I never used LiveJournal back in the day (though I knew kids who did) so I don't know. Generally it seems like some people have had this magical experience of community online, while most people haven't. I feel lucky to have tasted it, but I'm sad there's nothing like this for me anymore, and no way I can show people how good online community can be.

Anyways, I still haven't scratched my itch. I think the important attributes for creating that original BBS feel are:

  • Co-experience groups through a shared view
  • A single topic of discussion at a time
  • Lightweight entry formatting
  • Posts are ephemeral
  • The small audience outlet is addictive

I'm convinced this mixture does not exist today. But maybe this is all bullshit and what I'm describing is nostalgia.
© 2009-2024 Brett Slatkin