The BBS Corner - Planning and Starting Your Own BBS

Are you thinking of becoming a SysOp and starting a brand new Bulletin Board System? Before you begin - we highly suggest you look at the suggestions on this page so you are more prepared on taking on a great (but enlightening) hobby and helping the online world.

Before You Begin...

Before you begin to download and install some BBS software and door games - take a step back and think exactly what you want from your BBS. How much time do you want to spend on setting up and maintaining your BBS? Do you have the technological know-how to set one up? Some of these questions you must answer yourself - but here are some hints to help you get started.

How Fast of a Computer?

Occasionally I get asked the question "What kind of computer do I need to run a BBS?" Basically the answer is the fastest computer you have. BBS systems typically do not take up much room on a hard drive and do use many CPU cycles. You can use a slightly older computer that uses Window 2000 or Windows XP, a moderately fast processor, and 1 GB or so of RAM. It doesn't have to be fast - but fast enough. If you have a modern operating system that supports virtual machines - you can dedicate a VM to the BBS and have it run on it's own CPU core. It is not very complicated to set one up and have it run. It's how you want it to look and run is totally up to you.

Selecting a Theme

A typical BBS system offers message forums, online games, shareware files and E-mail to other users. What makes BBS systems unique is the ability to customize the system to the liking of the BBS System Operator (Sysop) to whatever they want. Some sysops stick with the "stock" (generic) interface that a particular BBS comes with and have a general (no defined theme). Others gear their BBS towards a hobby (for example - Ham Radio or Genealogy). Some customize the menu systems to go with whatever theme they're trying to accomplish. A lot of young SysOps go for the "scene" look where the colors are wild and have a lot of added features that attract the young experimenter crowd. Whatever your desire - look at other BBS systems out there and get a feel of which base BBS systems you like. The only limiting factor is your imagination.

Selecting A BBS Software

There are many BBS software packages out there. All are unique in their own way. You might choose one now and decide to change later. (For example - I have changed software three times over the last fifteen years) It isn't an easy task. Each time it gets more difficult to make the BBS look and feel the same as it did before. (Users like stability - systems that change too much suffer in that their calls per day drop off). The best bet is to check out systems that are already out there and decide what you want to use.

Commercial, Shareware and Freeware Packages

The major difference here is price, support, and future development. Commerical BBS software is primarily geared towards businesses. Shareware BBS software is available as "try it before you buy it" concept where you can download a test copy and try it out before you decide to buy it. Freeware is just that - Free. But you may be limited to options and future development and support.

In recent years there is also a new problem of software abandonment. With the online world shifting towards the Internet, many BBS authors are no longer supporting their software. This does not mean that you should not use one, but don't expect any support from the author. In many cases there are support groups for many brands of BBS software.

Commercial BBS packages (examples: Wildcat and Worldgroup) are nice in that they are are under constant development to keep up with the changes in technology. However they are proprietary in nature. With some you are limited to only using add-ons that they sell. Major version upgrades usually cost money. And they initial cost of the BBS software can range from $200 to $1,500+. Personally, I do not feel that a Sysop, especially a new one, needs to consider forking out the kind of money required for the commercial applications. Therefore, I will skip any further discussion of them.

Shareware and Freeware BBS platforms - there are many and all are different. There are trade-offs. It's just how they go about it. For example, some have nice menu driven configuration menus while others have flat ASCII files that you update via a text editor. Some have better scripting languages than others. Some have internal programming-like languages (Something I always look for). And others have built-in Internet access (Telnet, FTP, IRC, E-mail, etc).

For a freeware BBS program - Synchronet is a very good choice to use. It is very flexible where it is very easy to set up and get started - yet can be robust enough to do what you want and can be customized to do much more than the original "stock" BBS.

Synchronet has built-in Telnet server capabilities and are designed for 32-bit and 64-bit Windows operating systems. It has Internet features such as FTP, Telnet, Internet E-Mail, and a web interface in lieu of the traditional ANSI interface.

Further Information: Active BBS Software

Putting the BBS on the Internet

Assuming you are creating a Telnet based BBS, it is important to know how to put it on the Internet. We have a How-To guide on doing just that. It helps explain the actual connections to the Internet, interfaces for older BBS packages without a built-in Telnet server, and even how to go about getting dynamic DNS addresses.

Further Information: Telnet BBS Info

Other Tips and Suggestions

The biggest suggestion I have is PLANNING. After you have completed the initial setup and have read through the documentation, and played around with the system a little bit give some thought. Envision how you would like your system to look and "feel". Channel your focus to accomplishing this goal. As you learn more about the capabilities of the system the more you will want to "tweak". Before you know it you will have hour upon hours invested into your BBS and not have had your first caller.

At first, do not worry about making pretty ANSI screens. Sure you will want to. But do not get hung up on the look at first. Concentrate on how the BBS flows. Figure out what options you will allow on various menus. Most BBS platforms can generate screens on the fly. This save you time from having to re-design and save screens every time you make changes to an area/menu. Once you have things just about ready find a ANSI drawing package (TheDraw is a long time favorite of Sysops). Then let the creative juices flow.

Don't put your BBS up to early. At first there are bound to be bugs. Menus not working fully, screens not displaying the way they were intended, configuration errors, etc. Test drive you own system. Have a friend or two test and shake the system down. Make a list of the problem areas that need attention. Work on the list. When you have your "final product" then put it up and get the word out.

Once you do get your BBS up and running, consider "advertising" it to attract users. For example - the Telnet BBS Guide offers free listings for people who run Telnet BBS systems. There are other BBS lists you can post your BBS on as well. These include the Synchronet BBS List (for Synchronet Sysops), and Check the List of BBS Lists page for details.

Another way to advertise your BBS is to set up a web page. Your Internet provider may have web space available, or use one of may free web page providers out there. It's all up to you, and which one works the best for you. Of course make sure the web page has all the info on there. Also offer them freeware Telnet Client software such as mTelnet or SyncTerm for download.