What is a BBS?
BBSes, or Bulletin Board Systems, were kings in their day. Users would dial up to them directly, using a modem. No internet and no ISP were involved, and the user took up the whole phone line. Other users would get a BUSY signal until the online user logged off and hung up. Single user systems were the norm until years later when multi-node BBSes started showing up -- the SysOp would have several machines networked, and each would have a modem. Expensive, but worthwhile. And all at 1200 or 2400 baud (120-240 characters per second.. as low as 30 chars per second to as high as 20k/second in the later days..)
What did you do a BBS once you got there? What value was in it?
- Local interaction from the world -- Email, IRC, ICQ are all direct forms of communications, world scale. Usenet and web forums are not direct, and world-audience again. How do you get local interaction, world audience, in a friendly but passive way? A BBS - a group of users hanging out in the same place, interacting personally on a small scale, but via localized email and message bases and games. With fidonet and gateways you are interacting with the world, but all through a personalized "portal". Its just a friendly medium that is all but vanished today...
- Interact with the community -- the BBS was not a disjoint set of users like on the web. It was a group of people all dialing up and sharing a limited resource. Being a limited resource meant BBSes tended towards themes and topics of interest to the users. This meant it was more of a group or hang-out than a website will ever be. Many had face to face get-togethers as well.
- Play games -- BBS games were fantastic. Usually head to head and team based. Play a turn each day in a space empire and combat the other users or teams. Build giant medievil empires, or send starships into the unknown for great trading missions.. these are a form of gaming descended from roleplaying and tabletop gaming and nearly gone from the earth. Play-by-email is similar but slower and less personal.
- Read and Post in the Message Bases -- the heart of the BBS were its message bases. Much like usenet, but simpler and localized due to the dialup nature of the BBS, they tended to be personal and interesting and friendly. And full of the greatest flamewars ever to be seen. I believe they still fit into a niche today -- usenet is wide scale. IRC is immediate. Email is private. BBS Message Bases are public, yet personal and local, and more interactive then a website.