The BBS Corner - An Introduction to the World of Bulletin Board Systems

Table of Contents:
Ever wanted to know more about Bulletin Board Systems but were afraid to ask? Here is an introduction to the world of Bulletin Board Systems.

An Overview of Bulletin Board Systems

Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) are basically self-contained online communities. A BBS is almost like a miniturized Internet. A BBS has a variety of things for users to do - Read and Write messages in Discussion Forums, Upload and Download files, and Play online games. If you?re familiar with the concept of Facebook - it's very similar, just on a smaller scale.

Most BBS systems offer a general perspective - they offer a little bit of everything.  General perspective BBS systems do not have a topical theme. Some are dedicated to bringing in large amounts of varying topic message forums covering a wide variety of topics and interests--using networks that you will never see on the Internet. Other BBS systems are specialized and follow specific themes such as Genealogy, Sports, Programming, Religion, or just about anything you can imagine. These systems usually carry and message forum conferences related to their themes. Others might host a large selection of online games for their users to enjoy. Though dwarfed by the amount of software available now found on the Internet, some BBS systems are large repositories of a wide variety of software - and, in some cases - software not found anywhere on the Web.

As with any community, you will find some systems that appeal to you and others that may not. After checking out various BBS sytems, you will find several you will call "home". Then you will have yet another place to happily waste time having fun with your computer - just like the Web!

How Do I Access BBS Systems?


Telnet BBS Systems

Most BBS systems these days are Internet accessable via a system called Telnet. Telnet is an Internet application that has been around for well over 25 years - even before the World Wide Web. (For more information - Wikipedia article)

You can access them directly from your computer without any special software to be installed. Most modern computer operating systems have something called a ?Telnet Client? to access telnet systems directly. Windows XP, Mac OS X and all flavors of Unix (including Linux) can access Telnet systems directly without any special configuration. (Note - If you use Windows Vista or Windows 7, you will need to "turn it on" first, or use another Telnet application - see next pargraph.)

In addition to the built-in Telnet software, there are a number of Telnet Client Applications that provide added support (such as file downloading) and full screen interfaces. Check out our Getting Connected page to see a list of Telnet Applications for your particular operating system. Most of these are freeware or shareware.

For More Information: Telnet Client Applications

For More Information: List of Telnet BBS Lists

Dial-Up BBS Systems

There are still a handful of BBS systems that are "dial-up" accessable - meaning that you use a dial-up modem to access them. Software to access these systems is also available on our Getting Connected page.

The Bulletin Board System Interface

BBS systems date back to the "old days" before graphical interfaces (such as Windows) became popular. BBS systems are "text based" meaning that they do not use point and click devices (a computer mouse) to navigate. They use keyboard commands to perform functions ? to navigate from one section to the next, or to enter a command or a message.

The "graphics" (if you want to call it graphics) are based upon basic colors and ASCII text screens (together are called "ANSI" (a standardization group). If this scares you don't worry about it. You'll get the hang of it in no time. Just play around and you'll figure it out. Each BBS is slightly different (which leads to their individuality) but for the most part they offer the same things (see below for what's in store).

What Do Bulletin Board Systems Have To Offer?

The Bulletin Board System concept offers a unique small online community environment. Each BBS is a "town" of its own. Many BBS systems offer message discussion forums, online games and shareware files for downloading. A number of these systems are "networked" where information is shared on a routine basis, while others are run as totally independent systems.

The following are details on what a typical BBS system may offer for its users. Each BBS is unique and may offer items in addition to those seen here.

Message Discussion Forums

Discussion Forums are undoubtedly the heart of many BBS systems. The ability to provide BBS users a means of sharing ideas, opinions, and information. Discussion forums fall in one of three categories: Local and Networked.

Local Forums

Message Discussion Forums (also called Message Conferences) that are unique to the BBS system that the users is currently on. Messages in these areas is not distributed to other systems.

Networked Forums

Networked discussion forums are connected to many BBS systems nationwide or sometimes worldwide. There are several large BBS networks just for Discussion forums, the largest of which is known as Fidonet. Different BBS Systems carry which Discussion Forums they want to subscribe to - depending on the desires of the users.

There are currently hundreds of Discussion Forums available on Fidonet. The topics of these forums range from those being highly technical to those which are non-specific (Open forum), and everything in between.


BBS systems have their own version of E-mail. There are two kinds of E-mail when it comes to BBS Systems. The first kind is only designed to be sent from a user to another user on that specific BBS System. The other kind of E-mail is sometimes referred to as "Netmail" where the originator is on one BBS system and is sent via a network to another BBS system somewhere else.

Software / Applications (Shareware Files)

As any user of the World Wide Web knows, there are hundreds or even thousands of Shareware Files (Software Applications) available for downloading to one?s PC. With this one might think that there is very little a BBS system could offer. This is not the case. In addition to finding many of the files available on the Web, BBS systems offer files that are either non-existent on the Web or are very hard to find. Shareware files got their start with BBS systems many years ago.

Some BBS systems specialize in hosting files of a particular theme or category. Systems that do this save the BBS user from endless searching Web by providing a consolidation of files.

Online Games (Door Games)

Online games, commonly referred to as "Door Games" are another feature of BBS systems. Games range from the very simple (example - Casino type games) to very complex strategy games (examples - Legend of the Red Dragon, Trade Wars 2002). Some games are simply for the caller's individual entertainment. Other games allow the callers to compete for high scores, and others are often educational in nature.

Another category of Online Games is known as Inter-BBS games. These games allows the users of one BBS to unite as a team to play against the users of another BBS or a league consisting of several BBS systems. These games usually last for weeks and sometimes even months. Examples of such games are: Barren Realms Elite and Arrowbridge.

The graphics of these games is not what you are used to seeing on games you play at home on your PC. These games generally use ANSI graphics.  Trying to push full-blown graphics (like those used in modern RPG games such as Quake) would bring the games almost to a stand still. However what these games may lack in esthetics they make up for in content. This is especially the case with the strategy games.


Another favorite past time of BBS callers is just sitting back behind the keyboard chatting with others online. A small but growing number of BBS systems offer services similar to the IRC on the Internet: Private Chats, Public Chats and Chat Rooms.

Internet Services

Some BBS Systems are doubling as Internet Service Providers. These can provide lower cost Internet access for those who are not heavy Internet users. These can provide such things as Internet E-mail, IRC chat, Telnet, FTP and more. Not all BBS systems offer Internet services - so check around if this is what you are looking for.

Who Operate Bulletin Board Systems?

BBS Systems for the most part are run by hobbyists. These BBS System Operators (Sysops) have spent their money, time, and energy to provide the general public with a totally unique online experience that you cannot find elsewhere.

These are people like you and me - but have decided to give something back to the online community by sharing their knowledge, expertise, drive, ambition, and money towards the communication and entertainment of others.

Since these systems are operated as hobbies, please be considerate when using their system. They have given up a computer, spent money on software, and spend money month after month on electricity and telephone lines for your enjoyment.

Please support the use of Bulletin Boards as much as possible. Become active in the Discussion Forums and the Online Games to show your dedication to such a great cause. If you can possibly afford it, consider making a donation to the Sysop of your favorite BBS system. Its an expensive hobby and your local Sysop can use the money. If you want to see an improvement or to "register" software (i.e. a Door game), please help out the SysOp. They will be very grateful to you. Its a "Win-Win" situation for all of us.

The Next Step? Get on a Bulletin Board!

Now that you've read the above overview, here is some additional information to help you get started in having fun enjoying and using Bulletin Board Syustems:

How To Get Connected to Bulletin Board Systems
Here are some resources on how to get connected to BBS systems in your town and around the world. Both traditional dial-up BBS systems and new Internet accessable (Telnet) BBS Systems are discussed.
Lists of BBS Lists

Want to find BBS systems? The BBS Corner has a list of BBS Lists - and also maintains a list of it's own called The Telnet BBS Guide - Over 400 systems listed, and updated monthly.
BBS User Frequently Asked Questions

If you need additional information - here is a quick listing of Frequently Asked Questions for BBS Users. Common questions are answered here.