BBS Bulletin board system is a system running software for computers that enables users to dial into the sytem via a phone line, and using a terminal program, perform functions. User may download software and data, upload data, play games, read news, and exchange messages with other users. During the height of list bbs popularity in the 1970's through the 1990's, many of them were run simply as hobbies and were free of charge, while some others charged their users a subscription access fee.
The first list BBS members went on line in February of 1978 in Chicago, Illinois. Since they were using original 110 and 300 baud modems from the early 1980's, list BBS messages were very slow. Around 1985, though, 1200 bit modems were introduced and both speed and popularity of list BBS member groups increased substantially.
For the most part, information on list BBS sites were presented using ordinary text and ANSI art. Few used graphics, but as the GIF format image become more popular, more and more incorporated use of graphics. The only problem was that graphics were very taxing on a BBS bulletin board system, so the demand of high speed modems took off. Toward the early 1990's, list BBS memberships became so popular that magazines such as "Boardwatch" and "Computer Shopper" were launched.
List BBS groups were even key in the internet growth in the mid 1990's. before commercial access to the internet was common, it was networks of BBSes that provided regional and international email and message bases. Some of them even supplied gateways by which members could send and receive email to and from the internet. These systems even allowed users to download binary files, search gopherspace, and even interact with distant programs vial plaintext email. The list BBSes were not linked together in real time. Rather, each one would dial up the next in line, and the regional hub, at preset intervals to exchange files and messages.
As the internet and computers continued to popularize, some BBSs became a veritable black market. For instance, there were BBS called "elite boards" that were used exclusively for distributing pirated software. Also, most elite BBSes used user verification In some way or another. In such instances, new users would have to apply for membership and have to prove that they were not involved in law enforcement, or as they were a called, a "lamer." Still, some of the largest sites accepted users upon invitation only.
Now, though, list BBS survives only as a fringe hobby. They mostly are for the job of those who run them and those who remember BBSing as an enjoyable pastime. Many BBSs can now be accessed through telnet and offer free email accounts. There are even some list BBSs that are web-enabled and have a web based user interface. This allows people who have never used a BBS to use one through their favorite web browser.
For those who really enjoy the nostalgia of BBSs, they can use DOSBox and its modem emulation via TCP/IP to dial up Tlenet BBS's with 1980's and 1990's era modem software.