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Why you should call a BBS today - an ode to the local digital pub

Early summer 2024

All things in life are not convenient, but they can be highly rewarding in part because of that very fact. I'd argue that "calling" BBS:es in 2024 is one of those things.

A ASCII-picture of a dragon, being the intro screen to an old game

Intro screen for the legendary multiplayer game Hack & Slash.

For those of you without memories of nightly sessions in the gleam of a modems light, here's the very short version of what a BBS (often called "a board") is: a slow paced, text only, social media. The slightly longer version is that it's generally a combined discussion board, file server and game center that resides on a single computer that in the old days was available by direct call from modem to modem. It could feature one or multiple "nodes" which was how many phone lines with modems that was installed by the sysop (system operator). Today it's basically the same but instead of modems all traffic is routed via internet by telnet or SSH.

I was a very active BBS user in the nineties, especially before I obtained my first internet connection in 1995. I loved the feeling of connecting to a system and browsing through what had happened since last time, maybe downloading a file or two or simply just browsing through the social activity in the message boards or playing turn based games. Nothing spectacular by todays standards, but a revolution for a young teenager in a rural area in the north of Sweden to connect with other likeminded individuals.

A list of message areas

A list of all the message areas on This Old Cabin BBS. Topics ranging from cooking to vintage computing.

Between 1999 and 2016 I don't think I "called" any BBS at all (by then almost every BBS still running had obtained telnet nodes) but in 2017 i rediscovered that there was actually a few boards in Sweden, both old and new, and got intrigued. I quickly fell in love again, much in the same way as I did back in the early nineties.

The reason why I still love BBS:ing is simple - on a good board it feels like you're visiting a digital version of your favourite local pub. There will be nothing but regulars there, once in a while someone new comes in and someone else leaves, but you'll generally get to know everyone quickly. The subjects of discussion varies a lot and the atmosphere is generally very friendly. Everyone also knows that what's posted on a BBS isn't going to change the world, so shoulders are lowered and it's okay to not connect for a month. Everyone will be happy when you return anyway.

A list of new messages adressed to the user

This shows the list of new messages adressed to me since my last logon to This Old Cabin BBS. Most BBS software will give you a summary of the latest activity since you last logged in.

There's also something with pure text based communication. I can't quite put the finger on what is is (so I might return to the topic later) but it's just nice to browse through content with a terminal.

The drawback to above mentioned fact about BBS:es being only visited by regulars is of course that a lot of them are virtually dead. There's a very limited audience out there, so you might have to do some digging before your find your preferred board that also features other living humans. But when you do, it's rewarding.

I generally "call" only swedish boards and on my own This Old Cabin BBS the international message boards are still hauntingly empty even though 10 000+ messages has been posted in the swedish part since the launch in 2017 (part of the reason to that is that the international nodes are a quite recent addition).


I returned to BBS:ing in 2017 out of pure nostalgia, but I very quickly realised that they filled a very contemporary social function as well. I've got aquainted with at least four people that I've later met in person on multiple occasions and been really happy to get to know. I've had the pleasure of reading and discussing a variety of topics ranging from chaos theory to cooking and gardening. I've hosted seven championships in a text based RPG where the youngest participant wasn't born until twenty years after the game was released. And I don't recall ever being even remotely stressed about anything related to a BBS.

That is why you too should call a BBS today.

Related resources

Screenshot of SyncTERM

A screenshot of SyncTERM, a modern open source client perfect for BBS-use, available on most platforms.