Article - Printed Off 8bit-Micro.Com

by Brian K. Hahn

The BBS: Patriarch of the World Wide Web

The beginning of the World Wide Web is not easy to map.  One could say that it's origins have to believed by faith much as our understanding of our own creation.  But if you had to put your finger on where it began one could point to the CBBS created by Ward Christensen and Randy Seuss from Chicago, IL, USA.  Yes, the US government or branches thereof did have a network working between military branches for the purpose of 'government' business which was a closed system, but computer communications as we know it today is supported by you and me, the average user.  The electronic BBS was the chain of computers that empowered the small guy to share information, views and news and spawned a software industry that has made many rich today.

Pictured: The first BBS system built by Randy Seuss and programmed by Ward Christensen.A physicist, Christensen a mainframe programmer by profession, was an electronics enthusiast and as many practiced his art in his spare time. This hobby culminated into an interest in the very early computers of the day and by the mid to late 70's he wrote programs and routines that allowed mainframes to transfer data using telephone lines.  His first program was apply named, "MODEM"   Short for the real term MOdulation - DEModulation. 

Ward Christensen and his friend Randy Seuss lived in Chicago and in 1978 during a cold winter the two began to work on a digital project that had been on their minds.  Working with digital electronics the two devised a simple computer communications system (pictured above) Christensen wrote the software and Seuss built the hardware.  Together they built the worlds first Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS).

The switch was finally turned on in 1979, and the rest is history.  By that time the WWW had revolutionized what those two had a hand in pioneering, there were over 90,000 BBS systems in the USA and over 10,000 in Canada alone.

The men and women who jumped on the bandwagon and started their own system were known as "System Operators" and their online handles were the SysOp.  These people would install, build, tweak and tweak a labour of love.  Thousands of telephone calls would tear across the phone lines daily, and the average user database of the day was well over 1000 names.  The real beauty if these systems were that for the most part it was FREE.  The computers, modems, electricity and time were all donated by the SysOps.  The beneficiaries being the fans of the home computer.

In 1984 I entered the fray and with my $3000.00 Tandy 1000 PC running MS-DOS 2.11 and Wildcat! I turned on and watched.  My system was developed as the Tandy Computer Support Group (T.C.S.G.)  The city was Camrose, Alberta with a whopping population of just 11,000 people.  In no more then 30 days I had a user database of over 200 users, and many calling from as far south as Florida, to as far north as Alaska. My system ran for almost 10 years providing shareware programs, messaging, news reports, weather reports, Tandy Computer Support and DOORS (Online Games)  The TCSG BBS accumulated over 1200 users, and over 800 shareware program many of these original programs by local enthusiasts.  The last caller was in 1994, I just turned off the switch. The World Wide Web had taken over.