The BBS Corner - The Future of Bulletin Boards? 

What will the future of Bulletin Board Systems be in 2010 and beyond? Here is our "Cracked Crystal Ball" view of what could - or maybe what SHOULD be the future for Bulletin Board Systems.

Background


It is difficult to see where the future of Bulletin Board Systems may go in the future. Certainly BBSes won't be as big as they once were. The Internet has changed the landscape forever.

Before the Internet, hobbists set their own BBS systems to fill the void. People wanted to communicate with other people. Face to face led to using the CB Radio, then BBS systems. With the Internet, everybody can be connected to any place at any time. The Internet allowed for easy centralization on a global scale.

In the old days, you needed a computer (which was somewhat rare), an analog modem, some terminal software, some BBS numbers to call - and most of all - the knowledge to know how to use it all! DOS computers were difficult if you didn't understand command line structure. Using a modem program such as Telix or Qmodem was not easy (those AT commands were a bit difficult). And finally - getting around on a BBS was not necessarily easy either. They were clumsy, difficult, and tedious. After a while most people manged to figure it out - but it wasn't always easy.

The Internet changed all that in the matter of a few short years. It allowed for people the communicate easily. The mid-1990s saw the advent of the modern graphical web browser - Netscape. A few mouse clicks here, a few there - and people can go where they want to be.

The idea of communictation with others has not gone away - in fact it has exploded in the last few years. MySpace, Twitter and Facebook are all examples of how people want to keep in touch with other people. The web made it so much easier.

So the future of BBSing must be a combination of all the above - the ability for a hobbist to set up their own "corner of the Web", allow people to easily access the systems, and allow for near real time communcation. The heyday of BBSing is long gone, but that doesn't mean that BBSing is totally dead. In the 1990s BBSes started adapting by using Telnet. Now the second wave must take place or soon BBSing could be gone forever.

What Future BBS Systems Need To Have


The future of BBSing would have to have the following:

Easy to use for the common person. While things like Telnet have prevented a total erasure of BBS systems, it alone can't take on the world. BBSing would have to be web based.

This does not mean a web-based forum is necessarily the answer. Web-based forums are good at what they do - messaging. But a web forum can be set up on any web server any where in the world. This is not seen as a "hobby" system since most people don't host their own web servers. Something for the hobby would have to be based at home that can be hooked up to a broadband connection. Yes, I'm well aware that most ISPs block the infamous "Port 80" for HTML - but you could pay for a "business class" account and you could probably get these opened up.

So how can BBSes adapt to being a destination? First of all people would need to actually start or continue active development on NEW BBS systems that would be a WEB based destination. Some BBS systems still under active development such as Wildcat and Synchronet do have Internet access right now. These need to continue  and be less old-school BBS focused and focus on more of a WEB destination.

Development of Flash interfaces have helped recently. Flashterm can be used to help bring Telnet to the web. Java interfaces have been around for a while, but these are slow and bulky for the end user. Flash makes more sense. This could be adapted to more real-time chat and game applications as time goes on. Eventually the Flash-to-Telnet interface won't be needed and systems can interface directly with Flash.

Real-Time network communication will also be key. There doesn't necessarily need to be a centralized server, but a network of hubs to interconnect systems for real-time communication. Something similar to today's IRC servers where you can have a decentralized network, but connected all at the same time. A packet based network like Fidonet won't work because it's too slow. But a next-generation Fidonet could work.

It's hard to look into the crystal ball to see the future - but the future will need to have more real-time collaboration of users. Facebook is a good example where BBSes would need to be headed if they want to survive in the long run. Otherwise BBSes will continue to be a very niche hobby - and maybe even less of a one as time goes on.