Your children never had it so good. With the ease of a keystroke - thanks to instant messaging - they can converse over long distances with friends and family. The cost is minimal, the social contact priceless. But before the IM came into vogue, the bulletin board system was the way to go. The bbs provided regional and international e-mail and message services. All at a price mind you. Bulletin board systems were not linked in real time which made meaningful communication difficult at best. Each would have to dial up the next in line, or at the very least a regional hub in order to exchange files and messages. And even then it had to be at preset intervals.
In retrospect it's easy to stand back and wonder how such a now-primitive method was even tolerated. But at the time bbs was the best thing out there. Come to think of it, bulletin board systems were the only thing out there.
Once the World Wide Web and internet started to evolve on an almost weekly basis, bulletin board systems declined in popularity in the United States. However, other countries which lagged proportionately behind the West continue to utilize bulletin board systems with much success. In Taiwan, China and other eastern bloc countries, the bbs has remained popular.
That is not to say that in the United States and abroad bulletin board systems are not still in use. In fact, most internet sites boast a bbs for generic conversation that has no need for real time access. The ease of logging into a bbs and posting a question, or following an archived conversation thread still has its followers. In fact, bulletin board systems have evolved as well. Several BBS systems connect directly to the Internet and eliminate the need for direct dial-up. This has consequently attracted a more geographically diverse user base.
Although many a bbs continue to thrive to this day, bulletin board systems that charge money have limited appeal. Most offered pirated software or freeware, others offered pornography. But with so many pornographic sites to choose from, porno-bbs have not really caught on. It may very well be that the attempt to charge money for bulletin board systems may be what led to the the downfall of the bbs.
As a survivor of the bulletin board explosion, I have fond memories of the close-knit community and lively discussion I could find on several of the boards in my home town. One bbs even organized a face-to-face quarterly get-together so members could meet each other if they felt so inclined. Such events are similarly held in other cities and countries.
These days, bulletin board systems and its users remain as a "niche hobby" more than anything else. In an age of instant gratification, it's just easier to log on to an instant messaging forum to get your feel of conversation and debate, rather than post a message and wait. Bulletin board systems join the list of the "almost" items that include 8-track tapes and video disks. Popular for a time but they didn't quite make up the high-tech evolutionary chain. No matter. The day will come when instant messaging will be replaced with something newer, faster and flashier. It's just a matter of time.