Before the world wide web there were online communities run by enthusiasts, geeks, techies, cool kids and social misfits. Communities where you had to know and dial a telephone number to connect through acoustic couplers, and later, modems. Their content was mostly text-based and they offered their users private messaging, discussion boards, software and even games.
I am of course talking about bulletin board systems (BBS). They were often themed around a particular topic or community and served as a virtual meeting place where like-minded people gathered to share all manner of concepts, ideas and other digital content. In many respects these BBS could be considered amongst the first online social networks. The first public BBS, Community Memory, was established in Berkeley California in 1973, and over the next 20 or so years the number of BBS and their users steadily increased until they reached their peak around the mid-1990’s, when the world wide web started to become mainstream.
A wonderful thing happened in the 1980s: Life started to go online. And as the world continues this trend, everyone finding themselves drawn online should know what happened before, to see where it all really started to come together and to know what went on, before it’s forgotten.Jason Scott
The advent of the world wide web largely led to the downfall of the BBS, with few now existing. In many cases the culturally important content they contained disappeared with them. However there are people who have actively archived their content. One of the most comprehensive of these archives is texfiles.com, founded in 1998 by Jason Scott.