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From the BBS to the Blog: How WordPress is Like WWIV

June 5th, 2007 by shawn · 5 Comments

If you’ve been online long enough, you might remember when there was no such thing as MySpace, there was nothing remotely similar to eBay, and you actually personally knew many of the people you chatted with online. (Oh yeah, and going online was done via 2400 baud modem – which was plenty fast.) If you don’t remember any those days, turn your imagination on for a couple of minutes…

Back in those days, to go online meant to turn on your computer, open up a terminal program or dialer (I used Procomm Plus, Qmodem, and Telix) and then dial your favorite BBS. Most BBSs were run using software called WWIV (written by a guy named Wayne Bell), although there were a few other choices out there that just weren’t as popular.

I remember being an eleven-year-old kid in New Orleans and logging onto the Shinto Shrine or The Bowling Alley BBS or The Seventh Plane. There were a bunch of BBSs that I would visit, and I would see many of the same names of other users wherever I would go. It was fun to discover new boards, and people would recommend their boards in posts all the time. (In case you think I’m weird a special case, there are other BBS fans like myself.)

It got even more fun when I discovered “underground” BBSs like The Pits and Blitzkreig and Ripco. (Oh yeah. I found my home.) I racked up a bunch of long distance bills at first, but then I discovered “codes” which got me free long-distance calls and thus access to all my favorite out-of-state warez/hack/crack BBSs and allowed me to collect all the TRSi/TDT demos I could. (Then I discovered the internet, which was nothing like it is today in terms of what it’s used for and what it’s become. This was all circa 1989-1993.)

Anyway, back to WWIV. It was the standard platform for most BBSs I visited during most of those years. Whether it was the hacker scene or the mainstream BBS scene, WWIV was the standard. Granted, it was modded and basically hacked six ways from Sunday everywhere you looked – but whether someone called it WWIV or gave their modded version of it some cool new name…you still knew it was WWIV when you saw it. It was everywhere in the BBS world. (Yes, the h/p/v/c “underground” BBSs usually were running something “cool” like L.S.D. or ViSiON-X but stay with me here.)

And not much has changed. I sometimes miss the simple days of bulletin boards, but when I compare then and now, and what I enjoyed about BBSs compared to blogs – the same basic concepts are true of blogs. Here are a few parallels I thought of between the two:

  • Community. BBSs and blogs bring forth communities of like-minded people. In the BBS days, I lived around the people in that particular community and even met some of them in person. This doesn’t happen in the world of blogs – but there are a few blogs I frequent where I see the same names over and over in the comments and in the latest visitor widgets. So while things don’t work out exactly the same due to the fact that the community is perhaps spread across the world, there are distinct communities that frequent certain blogs.
  • Scenes. I don’t know what else to call it okay?? So I’ll just call it a scene as in “music scene” or “bar scene” or other such cliches. The point is, just as each BBS usually was part of a certain subculture, I’ve noticed the same type of thing with blogs. Usually a blog will have a certain flavor, a certain topic, and certain types of people “hang out” there. (Yeah I suppose there could be an underground scene of bloggers too maybe but I don’t know for sure.)
  • Advertising. On most BBSs, you would see a directory of other people’s boards and usually the logoff screen would show a couple of other BBSs you should visit (ex: SHERWOOD FOREST – 8-N-1 – 9600 baud – 80 megs! etc.) and when you’d logoff a lot of times you just dial up one of those boards to see what it was like. Same thing happens these days, except it’s usually called a “Blogroll” and instead of dialing I just hafta click.
  • Widely-used software. Again, the BBSs had WWIV. But blogs have WordPress. I know there’s other stuff out there you can use, but come on – really. Almost everyone uses WordPress.

And this is where I wanted to really get back to. Why do I think WordPress is like WWIV? (Get ready. Here comes another bulleted list.) A few reasons:

  1. People hack the hell out of it. I don’t care if they do it with CSS, plugins, or if they are coding in Javascript or PHP they will find a way to make it do what they want. They put new features on it, they make it look cool or really crappy with various themes, and they pull all kinds of tricks that WordPress wasn’t built to do “out of the box.” (WordPress users are almost like VW bug owners in this respect. They keep messing with it and making new things for it etc.) In the days of WWIV I saw a helluva lot of customization, different “doors” (that means games), cool logon pages and logoff pages, networking (FidoNet), and other stuff that WWIV wasn’t “supposed” to do. The only limits were people’s imagination and C programming abilities.
  2. It works great. Whether you have a plain ol’ basic installation or you’ve got it full of customization, WordPress is as solid as it gets. And that’s what WWIV was. It was the Honda of BBS systems, it just worked and was okay-cool the way it was. SysOps ran it and it kept running and all was well and they pronounced it “good”.
  3. Users like it. Users “know” WordPress, even if they don’t know the name of the system. They might not have a clue what the difference between WP and Blogger are, but when they arrive at a WordPress blog it usually has a certain familiarity that they like because they’ve experienced it before so many times. The same familiarity was present with WWIV. A new BBSer quickly learned the look and feel of a WWIV board, and that was a good thing for both users and SysOps. If you were a fairly experienced BBS user, you knew immediately what a board was running just from the login prompt. If it was a WWIV BBS, you could settle right in to the same menu options and layout and it always felt like home.
  4. It’s a standard system. I’ve stated this throughout this entire article without spelling it out, but this is the end result of the other things that are true of WP and were true of WWIV. Because of the fact that you can customize it, and it works well, and people like it…it’s become so widely adopted and put into common use that it’s the standard by which others are measured. (I don’t mean this in an official sense, but I do think that if someone were to make a new blogging platform today they would have to compare its functionality, capabilities, installation, usage, and looks to WP in order to make a program worth using. It would be foolish not to.)

We’re not living in the days of the BBS, it’s true. There’s really nothing exactly like the bulletin boards of the 80′s-90′s – and I can’t make an exact comparison because nowadays we have a hodge-podge of blogs/websites/forums/social networking sites that do what BBSs did so much better…but in other ways, not as well. So while I have a certain nostalgia for the days of reading Phrack or underground text files (“philes” or “g-files”) and listening to the call of the modem in the night, I’m not the thirteen-year-old sysop of a BBS anymore. And I guess technically the BBS days are a thing of the past.

But then again, I have a blog…running WordPress. (Is Matt Mullenweg the new Wayne Bell?)

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    Comment by HZ Alex
    2007-06-06 18:23:55

    Ahh, the good ol’ days. I’ve tried to describe BBSes to people who haven’t heard of them, but they think I’m crazy.

    I guess it’s kind of like classic video games. They were magical back then, but people who play them now sometimes wonder what was so great about them.

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    Comment by shawn
    2007-06-06 19:58:52

    Totally with you there. Sometimes I bust out the Atari 5200 or the NES and I even have a ColecoVision. One time I was playing River City Ransom and my nephew was like “What the hell is this??” and I said “Yes!! Exactly!! Isn’t it awesome??”. He looked at me like I was crazy then said, “Um, no. It looks pretty boring. Why are you even playing that?”

    So classic games can’t complete with GTA San Andreas, I guess. But I don’t care, I have more fun playing Mega Man or Super Mario Bros. any day.

    Comment by Chris
    2007-11-01 10:59:33

    Yeah, but WWIV sucked big times on the ansi graphics’s portion of stuff (non mod’d yellow) hrm or was that wildcat, it has been so long. I ran with the Renegade BBS software package. Loved every moment of it. I got into the BBS scene right as it was starting to die out. So, that kind of sucked.

    You know it still isn’t completely dead. There are still BBS packages that cater to the web. :)

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    Comment by KeveSeila
    2007-11-29 14:08:07

    Fat Loss Diet Tip #1 – In order to lose body fat, you must know how to do the math!

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    Comment by DamionKutaeff
    2008-03-22 20:02:22

    Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your conmunity,
    and wish to assit as far as possible.

    (Comments wont nest below this level)

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