Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"BBS" Means What, Now?

There's a note on CrunchGear today that takes me back to my earliest web work. Yesterday, apparently, was the birthday of the first-ever public "BBS," which stood for "Bulletin Board System."

A BBS was a dial-in, text-based computer bulletin board; not quite "the web" as we know it now, but a start. That first one started in 1978!

I was not involved in BBS work that far back, but I did run a BBS for Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control back in the early 1990s when I was a Community Relations Officer.

Our intent was simple -- we wanted to provide a place for the regulated community to access the latest versions of the state's environmental regulations. That meant translating all of the regulations into text files -- ascii text files with no formatting.

Of course, many of the regulations in those days dated back to before the widespread use of word-processing systems. In some cases, we were scanning and translating old, several-times copied typescript.

And we were struggling to create a usable system that the few very computerized engineering firms could use. I think we succeeded.

Later in the 1990s, I was working for the Economic Development Office and got to set up a series of World Wide Web pages to present census and other data to small business and other data users. I was using very rudimentary HTML coding and every section of the site was a new design challenge.

Things have changed a lot. Today, almost all state agency web sites use a "common look and feel" web page design put together by the government Information Center. We use twitter and RSS feeds and, in some cases blogging software and other tools.

But if you trace back from today's gov 2.0 web sites, you find simple, text-based BBS systems that were accessed over phone lines using modems that beeped, and booped, and transferred data via some strange wash of white noise.

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