Today in Design History

Feb. 16, 1978: The Bulletin Board Goes Electronic

Facebook celebrated its 12th anniversary this month, but social networking got its start 38 years ago today, when the first public dial-up Computerized Bulletin Board System went online in Chicago.

Ward Christensen and Randy Suess had the idea of creating a virtual message board that people could connect to using a telephone modem, to post notes to one another. It was to be much like the physical bulletin boards in libraries, schools, and other public spaces that people had been using for decades.

It is reported that the idea came to Christensen when he was trapped in his apartment during the Chicago Blizzard of 1978. The two went from idea to working in a month, unleashing a kernel of what would eventually spawn the world wide web, countless online messaging systems and, arguably, Twitter. Yes, they did it before Mark Zuckerberg was even born.

There were all sorts of limitations.

That was 38 years ago. Back then, only a fraction of a few people had personal computers, and connecting also required a modem. If you were actually able to connect to a local bulletin board system (BBS), you would have been charged huge amounts of long-distance fees.

And then the wait began. Even if it worked, a reply could take days or weeks, but connections could very well have made you a social networking pioneer.

Of course, the early world wide web replaced said bulletin boards, but even today the humble BBS isn’t completely gone. In fact, BBSs thrive in Taiwan, where it’s an extremely popular form of communication for young people.

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