MACON, Ga. -- Like a sort of small-scale, not-for-profit Victor Kiam, I liked calling bulletin boards so much I bought one.
And I think you'll like them, too.
When you first call a bulletin board system, you'll want to remember that all you're doing is calling someone else's PC. Thanks to viruses and hackers, the owner of the other computer has an obvious interest in knowing who you are.
So, once your modem has made the connection to a board, the first thing you'll be asked is your name. When you fill that in, the BBS software will look through its data base of users, searching for you. When it doesn't find your name, it will ask you to select a password and automatically route you to a new user questionnaire.
These vary from board to board, but you'll usually be asked for such information as your address and phone numbers, age and sex and the sort of computer you're using. You'll then be asked some things about how the board should configure itself to your computer, such as whether or not you want color menus.
You'll also usually see some sort of list of rules or a membership agreement. You should pay attention to the rules or agreement, as they're the contract between you and the BBS. If your communications software has a capture buffer or log file to save everything that happens online, you should turn it on.
At some point, you'll come to a main menu, where you control what you do during your call. At the bottom of your screen, you should see a "prompt," so called because the computer is prompting you to take an action. On most BBS types, there'll be a list of available commands, though a few just give you the prompt. On these, you'll need to ask for help, generally by typing an "H" or a question mark.
A main menu is usually a combination of things you can do now, such as ask for help, and prompts to go to other menus, for things such as files or messages.
At the prompt, you generally type the first letter or couple of letters of the command you want. If you're supposed to type something other than the first letter, that's usually made clear, as the "x" in eXit or DOors for doors.
You'll probably see door and bulletin menus listed among the choices. Doors are usually games or quizzes that are self-contained, executable programs. Because the BBS software is removed from the host computer's memory when they run, you are said to have left the BBS (as through a door, hence the name).
Bulletins are announcements and help the system operator has put there for you.
The file menu is for the exchange of free software and shareware, try-before-you-buy software. Usual commands on this menu include upload (send software to the BBS) and download (get software from the BBS), list files (see what software is available on the BBS), and view a compressed file.
The message menu lets you read or leave (sometimes called enter or post) messages. There are three distinct types of messages, and confusing the types is probably the easiest way to get in trouble with the system operator.
Regular or local messages, sometimes called E-mail, stay on the bulletin board where they're written. Netmail messages are direct communications between two boards. Echo messages go HTC around the nation or world.
Since there are long-distance calls involved, netmail and echomail messages are where you can get into trouble if you're not careful. Echo messages are arranged into forums or conferences, usually devoted to a single topic.
But that's probably enough how-to for a while. Like many things, the only way to learn how to use a BBS is to try it.
Most BBSes will give you some degree of access at no charge, but some do charge a nominal fee (usually less than $30 a year).
For any bulletin board, set your communications program for 8 databits, no parity and 1 stop bit. Choose full duplex, with echo and linefeeds off. Terminal type should be some variation on ANSI/BBS. Some boards also use "call-back verifiers," software that will call the phone number you've entered to make sure you've given your real number. To prepare for this, you should learn how to quickly tell your communications software to answer the phone.
My board is named ZAP!, and offers echo and local messages, files and games; high-speed up to 14,400 baud; using Wildcat software; (912) 788-5258.