Before the Internet…

Before the Internet – and all it spawned, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram etc.; in fact, before the term “social media” was a glint in anyone’s eye – there were BBSes! Remember those? If you don’t, read on to see what we did in the early 1990s, if we wanted to connect with like-minded folks easily and often.

I will describe a bit of the user experience, having at one time been a member of several BBSes (Bulletin Board Systems) at once. Don’t ask me how I kept them all straight!

First, take a look at this:

BBS screenshot
Screenshot of a typical early BBS main page. This is what would greet you after you logged on.
Photo (cc) by Andy Langager

You can see that this is exclusively text-based. Early BBSes were geeky-looking DOS creations, un-prettied up by windows, let alone any frilly curtains! But they did the job. Under the watchful and careful eye of the sysop (system operator), presto! – you would be linked to other like-minded folks sitting at their computers, and you’d be afforded a chance to chat, exchange messages or posts, play simple games, view each others’ profiles, and so on. Quite revolutionary back then.

Each BBS had a different focus and slightly different clientele.  (Oh, did I mention they were free? Very democratic!) In Montreal, some were French, some English, and many bilingual. Some were rather intellectual; others were more like the dating sites that exist now. Some were heavy on games or many different files people could download.

I first discovered a BBS – Saturn 5 – in 1992, as I was hovering over my son’s shoulder, watching what he was doing, and became entranced. This was a very friendly bilingual BBS, heavy on chat and games. I recall that the chat on Saturn had the cute feature wherein you could see what the other person was typing while they were typing it, letter by letter! The only drawback was when they were a slow typist. 😉

Users would invent a handle or alias for themselves. My first alias, I’m rather embarrassed now to admit, was Twinkles. Now we would just call it a user name, no biggie – but back then it was a touch of fantasy that added to the fun.

Occasionally Saturn 5 users would get together IRL (in real life) and have GTs – er, Get-Togethers. It was amusing to see what people looked like, when up until then you had only typed at them. We had house parties or went bowling, innocent stuff. Most but not all were younger than I was, but it didn’t seem to matter; we all had something in common, a fondness for BBSes.

Another BBS I liked was Wild Munchkin’s Castle.  It was very different from Saturn 5, as it mainly consisted of forums with different topics, where you could post your opinion and debate with others. It was quite intellectual in tone, and its habitués included professors, writers and the like. There were no chat areas or games, and the prevailing spirit was serious, as I recall. You could have deep political or sociological discussions here, if you were so inclined.

Another difference with this BBS was that the sysop was a woman – a rarity.  We called her Wildy. (Not too original, now that I think of it!) Intellectual it may have been, but the GTs that Wildy spearheaded were pretty similar to the ones I went to held by other BBSes. A little awkward, but fun.

Last but not least of my favourite BBS haunts was Linq. Linq was well run by two co-sysops who were bona-fide computer engineers, network experts with real jobs in the field, unlike many other sysops who were self-taught dabblers. Linq had the best chat setup, games, files, message areas – and GTs. Their membership was huge and they were hugely popular, deservedly so.

Screenshot of an email predecessor on a BBS. photo (cc) by Andy Langager
Screenshot of an early email message on a BBS.
photo (cc) by Andy Langager

I enjoyed my beloved BBSes right up until 1995, when a brand-new invention graced my screen – Netscape! Along with the amazing World Wide Web and its graphical browser, came the Internet. And I was hooked!

For detailed background info on BBSes, see:

14 thoughts on “Before the Internet…

  1. Twinkles! Love it! I also spent quite a bit of time on BBS sites – not as much as my son, who was on a number of chess sites, playing games and giving no indication that he was only eight years old. Ellie (er, Twinkles), do you remember the fight about whether to say “period com” or “dot com”? Also, “mice” or “mouses”? Here’s a post on the subject:

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t remember the period/dot com or mouses thing, as I wasn’t actually a techie myself. I was, you could say, the quintessential user! I had a real “iAddiction”! (And thank you for that term! I enjoyed your article!) BTW, re tablets-and-stylus – I never really could understand any need for that. May as well use a pen & good ol’ paper. Mind you, tablets save trees, so… I don’t know, this jury’s out. 🙂


  2. I believe this represents the digital equivalent of Stonehenge or The Cerne Abbas Giant (chalkman of Dorset, England)–a superstructure that no one entirely comprehends how it came into existence but that ancient man (and woman, no doubt) was believed to have worshipped and made sacrifice to. It lives on in memory and rumors abound of its magical abilities. You are so blessed to have visited the ether realm birthplace.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Stonehenge, huh? Okay, I’ll take it! I wish I would’ve known back then what the hell I was doing. I thought I was just fooling around with a real slow modem and silly aliases! Kind of like a toddler playing with blocks on the carpet. Who grows up to be… an architect? Heh.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha! I’m “Einstien #2” from that last screen shot. I had just finished all my papers that were due with final exams in my junior year of high school, and went on the Wormhole BBS (Area code 218) to announce my relief.

    I’m just glad you’ve got this comment, and not the one where I asked if anyone had played Doom yet and announcing that I didn’t think it was very good. Some of Andy’s screenshots are immortalizing my stupidity. We didn’t need to wait until the Facebook era for that apparently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hilarious!! What’re the odds!! Haha, well that particular screen shot is now under ‘creative commons’ licence – which means you’re fair game! 😀 Yes, happily, your little missive actually includes a clever play on words! My post also prompted a comment from “Wildy,” the former sysop of “Wild Munchkin’s Castle” whom I’d lost contact with over almost 25 years ago! This is sooo fun!!


  4. Twinkles is cute! ‘Gizzy’ here. I can’t even remember there being colors when I first joined a MUD or Chat. Those came a year or so later…college years. Some time during those first years, I worked in a coffee shop, and a customer and I started talking (I have no idea how we got on the internet topic), and he said his company was thinking about investing in this strange thing known as internet and wanted to know my opinion on whether it was worth it or just a passing tech fad. Lol! I told him I thought it was worth it. I so hope he took my advice 🙂 (Nice to meet you, btw!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hiya! Just saw this now! Actually, I intended my alias to be “Twinkle.” But then somehow I proceeded to screw up, so I had to quit the site. But when I tried to go back in, it wouldn’t accept “Twinkle” as being me, so I had to use a new name – and I came up with Twinkles. That was soooo hard, let me tell you! 😀 Re colours, true enough, there weren’t any on the earliest sites. I remember my son at the time being an early internet explorer (pardon), and he was poking around only in b&w. That must’ve been around ’89 or ’90. Re the guy you ‘advised’ – YAY! Wish he would’ve got back to you and given you a lil reward! In a movie, that’s what would’ve happened, right? Great meeting you too, Tonja! (which reminds me – did you catch all the late-night shows making fun of Kirjsten’s (sp.?) name with the ‘j’ tossed in there? Lol…)


  5. Oh the memories this invoked. I had my own BBS and enjoyed running it. I can still remember the email system that we ran that at certain times of the night, would send out batches of messages to other BBSes to be forwarded to their final destination. All on dial-up as well!

    I had a second phone line for my BBS.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I well remember that screechy dialup sound of the modem! Our first one was only 1200 bps!! Then 2400. Then a big jump to 9600! Eventually of course the modem came built into the computer. 56,000 bps, wasn’t it?

      You had a dedicated phone?! Lucky you! Heh, well I guess if you ran the BBS, you had to; you couldn’t chance users being knocked off all the time! Fun to reminisce, isn’t it?!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Omg, Commodore 64! 300 baud! That was like the days of covered wagons, compared to Tesla! 😂 But how thrilling, to be at the forefront of it all. And to be a sysop, what a gas!

          Liked by 1 person

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