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A BBS, short for Bulletin Board System, was a popular way of meeting people online before the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web. Today, web-based message boards have largely replaced traditional BBSs.

It may be argued that many online community sites in reality are BBSs, and that only the implementation has changed. In any case, web-based message boards are still occasionally referred to as "BBSs", or "BBS-style fora".

Services and functionality

A BBS usually provided services such as

  • topical discussion groups
  • e-mail
  • real-time chat with other logged-on users
  • file repository for upload and download
  • Internet access (gopher, IRC, and e-mail)

Technically, a BBS usually was server software running on a computer connected to one or more phone lines through a modem. The administrators of a board are called sysops, short for system operators. Since users would maintain a constant connection to the service, the number of phone lines available determined the number of users able to log on at any one time. For instance, if two phone lines were available, at most three users could be logged on (the sysop and two dialed up). For this reason, boards often enforced rules such as a maximum login time of one hour.

Unlike today's Internet, users of BBSs were more or less confined to their home board. Messages could only be read by and files only shared with users of the same board. One could only chat with users logged on to the same board, and most people could only log on to one board at a time. This confinement is likely an important factor in their decline after the Internet became publically and popularly available. However, Internet access started becoming available through BBSs a few years before direct connections to Internet service providers became publically accessible.