I’m not sure what sparked my interest in BBS. Maybe it’s because I was feeling nostalgic and BBS were the closest thing I could find to my beloved Prodigy Classic message board. There are several hundred BBS in operation. Most of the boards I’ve seen are accessible through a Telnet client or the web. I use the Telnet client NetRunner.
The application process threw me off initially. Many boards ask that you submit a user application, including your name and location, to get an account. It’s a legacy feature from the days when users were dialing into the operator’s phone line. Some SysOps are more strict than others. A few of the famil-friendly boards want you to give your legal name, home address, and phone number, which makes sense considering some of these boards were set up by parents for their kids. Most boards are lenient about application info, though, and some explicitly allow aliases instead of real names.
The BBS experience thus far has been a blend of nostalgia, anarchism, homebrew sensibility, and–for lack of a better term–retro fetishism. There are networks dedicated to the art scene, games, information, and messaging. While some boards are active and have multiple callers per day, others are ghost towns. Most of the boards are Synchronet or Mystic, so I have become familiar with the menu templates to an extent, but it still takes time to explore the different boards and get a feel for the community.
If you’d like to check it out but aren’t sure where to begin, which was the case for me as well, the Center of Awareness is a good starting place.