Named by The Root Magazine as one of The Seventeen Black Internet Pioneers http://theroot.com). My name is Mike Holman http://mikeholman.com/
My Bulletin Board System (BBS) day have been written about in the book, “Black Software”.
Just this week I had to do a paper for a Pace University class I’m taking on one of the historical events that really had an impact on history. The paper had to be somewhat extensive and I thought “Woe Is Me!”. Low and behold after conducting a search, I found a website the zeroed in on the Top Ten Historical Events at
Seeing how I love Information Technology, my eyes immediately zeroed in on number 9, The Dawning Of The Information Age.
This was in my opinion a “loaded” topic as there are so many aspects and I had to think of what could I zero in on. I decided to zero in on flow of digital information exchange as I saw it as well as played a role in the early 1990’s. Similar to an article I did recently and posted on my Blog, which reflected on my Andrew Jackson High School years, while working on Wall Street in the 1980’s, once again to some what you are about to read may seem unclear in terms of trying to get a picture of what was going on, to others it may seem a little clear and yet to others it will be crystal clear. Here’s just a little portion of the paper I came up with…
The Information Age brought about computers and the internet.
The factual information is that we are able to do more now than we could prior to the dawning of information age. Computers in their current form today were on-existent. The computers that did exist took up the size of a large room. Computer code was written on punch cards and “fed” into the computers. There is a podcast on iTunes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs that speak of how things were prior to the real evolution of the information age. There is also another short clip from Bill gates here
The computers that did exist that could be used by individuals as noted in the podcast had very little memory and hard disk space. Because of this the programs written to run on these computers also had very limited capabilities. The computer programming code existed on tape recorders. I know this personally because I used the computers like this. One of the early computers that were in existence was made by Radio Shack and was called the TRS-80. The computer was not stand alone with a display but rather was more like a keyboard with outlets to input peripherals. To this “keyboard” I connected my TV which served as a display. I also connected little snap in cartridges which contained the programs I wanted to run. There were cartridges for Word Processing, Spreadsheets and even online communications via Videotext Cartridge. There was also a programming language cartridge called Basic Assembler. You could save your work (Wording Docs, Spreadsheets, etc.) on to a Cassette Tape Recorder. To get online I used a cable connected to the keyboard that when into a separate Modem. This Modem connected me to the Information Services that existed at the time such as CompuServe Information Service (CIS). This was the “Internet” for users of the time. You were able to read the latest news, join in Bulletin Board Discussions as well as participate in Live Chat.
Information Exchange was a key part of the Information Age. As the Information Age further evolved, individual users found that that if they did not want to pay for an online information service such as CompuServe, they could create they own exchange of information between one or more users. This was done via the use of Computer Bulletin Board Systems or BBS’s. I ran one of these systems. Users were able to l dial my system (my actual telephone line) and I had my computer setup “ready” to take calls from users. I had Message Boards setup for users to exchange information with each other on my system. A Network of Computer Users evolved that at certain intervals at night would “drop off” messages to other Bulletin Board Systems. The Message exchange would be to the “next closest” system so that eventually the message “drop off” would cover the global. Popular networks of that time were called “Fido Net” Systems where numerically assigned numbers were the “ID” number for the individual computer board systems. The cost was just the phone calls and thus the mail drop offs occurred late at night were rates were low.
At this point the Internet was not in full swing, but E-Commerce was “up and coming” Using these same Bulletin Board Systems users were able to subscribe to services during their dial up session and purchase products using a credit card. The Bulletin Board System would just as it “dropped off” mail, would “drop off” credit card transactions to a card processor for payment. Automation in these early stages was key, so I had my Bulletin Board System setup to automatically take an incoming call, from a user looking to exchange email and/or purchase products. That same evening my system would automatically go offline to drop of mail to the nearest BBS System part of the Fidonet Network and then make another call to process any pending credit card orders.
As the Information Age further evolved having a “Website” was the “in” thing to have. With your Website you now became automatically global. Users could now visit your website and do all of the things they did on your Dial up Bulletin Board System. Once more, while you could only have a limited amount of users on your Bulletin Board System, on the Internet via a Website there was no limit. You would only have to pay additionally charges if you had an exceeding large amounts of traffic called bandwidth. The Internet via a Website allowed for Multimedia which was a big step forward. You could now have Sound, Pictures and Video all on your website to enhance the user experience. You could now offer many of the same services that the online information systems such as CompuServe were offering. This capability often led to the demise of companies such as this because “everybody and their mother” could do the same thing.
Today, my Bulletin Board which was accessed by dialing a phone number is now called up via my website bearing the same name Holman’s World. I can offer what I offered on the Bulletin Board Service and much more because of the evolvement of the Information Age.
The Big Online Services like CompuServe provided the “neat and cool stuff”. I found their offerings were quite exciting. The offered very manageable discussion boards. I actually served as Discussion Board Leader in many of these online forums. I saw what the board looked like from an Administrative point and was impressed. Just as companies were developing products for the BBS users, they were also developing products for the Large Online Services as well. As the Online Services could have numerous amounts of users online, their message boards were very large and just trying to read everything was a challenge. Companies developed software that allowed users to read their messages offline whether for a large online service or a Bulletin Board Service, thus saving online cost. These Offline Readers (OLR) were key for all users as they could mark read messages and compose responses to be sent during their next online session, whether on a large online service or on a computer Bulletin Board Service.
In the Information Age, we’ve come a long way and it seems we still have a long way to go as today’s technology is history by tomorrow.
As I did with my Wall Street Article, I’d like to mention again an organization that has played a critical role in technological developements and that organization is BDPA Information Technology Though Leaders (http://www.bdpa.org/) This organization was right at the forefront of the Bulletin Board Systems back in the day and had it’s own FidoNet Style network called, BDPANET. Take at look at some the BDPA files from back in the day as well. Also the picture in this Blog post is me presenting an Internet Seminar at a BDPA National Conference actually during the time when the BDPANET and my BBS was in full swing. The Laptop Shown is what I actually used to run my BBS.
This paper mentioned the larger online services and offering such as Chat Sessions. I conducted some of them. What did they look like. Have Look at my Chat Logs from back in the day.
Lastly I tried to share an lesson on two on the regular and called them, “Information Highway Lessons”.
Watch this video relative the Dawning of Age:
Watch Jack Rickards Fully Merged BBS Documentary Here