While Jim Maguire puts in a normal business day as a computer software consultant, a silent partner takes care of his home-based business: Atlantis On-Line Information System.
Resting discreetly on the floor of a spare bedroom in his Columbia home, a Compaq 286 computer is host to phone calls from computer users who want to see what's happening on the Atlantis bulletin board.
"Welcome to Atlantis, 'The Wave of the Future,' " the Compaq's script says. After answering a few questions, callers are led to the main menu, which includes a Marketplace column with categories such as Computer Bits and a Features column, which includes a Post Office and forums for those interested in small businesses, personal finance, politics and entertainment.
Mr. Maguire, who says he has "several hundred regulars" among his 2,000 subscribers, lets them chat through six telephone lines coming into the house. Each is hooked up to the computer through its own modem, a device that allows data to be transmitted through phone lines.
Anybody with a computer and modem can log on, read what's there and make printouts from the screens. (Set your modem to 8 bits, no parity and one stop bit, and dial 740-2400.) Clients, who pay a modest yearly fee, can submit classified ads or send messages.
There are about 30,000 such bulletin board operations nationwide. Most are set up as hobbies by their system operator.
But Mr. Maguire has profits in mind, and that makes his bulletin board different. He has designed his system like a miniature version of the nationwide Prodigy on-line information service owned by Sears and IBM.
As on Prodigy, users are exposed to advertisements as they navigate among the screens.
Computer Bits, for example, offers six invitations to learn more about items for sale by dealers. There also are the usual bulletin board prompts for reading or writing messages.
To build up his subscriber base so that advertisers will find it more lucrative, Mr. Maguire is offering a $100 gift certificate to the subscriber who brings in the most new business.
"I want to hit 5,000 by the end of this year," he says.
He also hopes to open a similar system in the Boston area. His plan: packaging phone lines, a modem and a computer inside a container and keeping it in the warehouse of a computer distributor in return for free ads.