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The Playpen BBS has been a part of history for almost ten years now. And that after having been online for only five years at that!
Oh there have been a couple of attempted revivals (maybe resurrections?), but while they have been rather enthusiastic and would occasionally show a spark or two of the old glow, they were in the end pathetically hollow imitations and a sideshow of the overly forced jocularity usually seen on sit-com reunion shows where the principals really don't like each other.
For the uninitiated, some history:
The space in time occupied by the Playpen, from 1993 through 1998 (give or take a month or so) was unique and the specific conditions that made it a success will most likely never happen again.
In the late 1980's and early 1990's the personal computer was an emerging technology. A 486 with sixty four megs of RAM was considered a supercomputer for the home. At the time most people who were 'into' computers may have still had a Commodore 64 sitting in the corner (the Desk still has one in a box out in the garage, and at last check, it would still boot up).
The modems used by the desktop computers (laptops were still a gleam in IBM's eye) were still in the process of gaining speed. 1200 Kbps had given way to 9600 while rumors of 14.4 and even 33.6 boxes were being spread. Part of the joke with an external modem was that if you sat your mug of coffee on it, the modem would keep your coffee warm.
Graphics were, by any reasonable standard, primitive. Sound? Motion? Real time full color live video? You're dreaming about "Star Trek" again.
While the Internet was 'out there' it was only being used by some Universities and the Military and certain corporations.
The programs used are now spoken of with reverence by techie perfectionists. There was the hated MS Hyperterminal or you had Telex or one of its cousins to dial into the service. Things like Q and Z modem programs are mentioned in hushed voices.
Then you have the saints of the Major BBS and Galacticomm/ Worldgroup pantheon.
And with Telnet all of the sudden the world was Right Here!
So those so inclined would plug their computer into a telephone line, those that were really serious had a second line installed just for that purpose, and then log onto a Bulletin Board System.
The early ones were one user systems which offered limited interaction with others... when you logged off so they could log in that is. You could post messages which others would then read and reply to, which is where the name, "Bulletin Board System" came from. The forum format has survived the transition to the Web as can now be seen on social sites such as "Facebook" and others.
Multi-line and multi-user services let two or three or even dozens of users to be online simultaneously for teleconferences and various games.
And it was the teleconferences that were the center of large BBS Systems nationwide. Some, like the Pen, had hundreds of users, many with paid accounts, some even sold advertising online to offset operating costs.
Roll playing games sprung up like the infamous "Tradewars" and even the rather odd "Food Fight" offered options for those that didn't want to chat or play trivia against other users. But still it was the teleconferences that drew the most traffic and are in many respects the most recognized survivor of the BBS era if you consider the popularity of services such as Yahoo! chat and AOL's AIM and their kin and clones.
But as the nineties wore on the Web was growing, and offering things that a BBS just simply couldn't due to a myriad list of factors from storage limitations and maintenance requirements to legal concerns and increasing costs.
Content became the key to survival. Some went 'adult' and offered content not available on tamer boards. Others got into gaming and offered some of the first interactive games where a user in one city could play against others from around their area or even nationwide. But even those that 'niched' their services knew the end was coming sooner rather than later.
A few SYSOPS and owners sold their service and User Accounts to upstart ISPs and content providers. Others simply watched as their user log ons dropped to nothing.
Playpen's bosses decided to go out with a bang rather than a whimper. There were still hundreds of registered users when the decision was made to pull the plug.
On that final day the board was busier than it had been in ages. Everybody wanted to be there when the end came.
But when the end came, many didn't want it to end. At least three separate attempts were made to revive it, the last was a web based application, an odd mixing of the two, but it just didn't work.
The format had run its course, most users now remember it fondly, but they have moved on.
Yes, like black and white TVs, there are reasons for a BBS, or a BBS-like application to exist in the world of the Information Superhighway. But just like the original TV format, those reasons are very specific and not likely to attract a broad audience any longer.
But... those fond memories can still be brought out and trotted around the track for old time's sake, and those users....
..... those "PENNERS"....
..... still want to get together once in awhile and check up on how things are going for the others.
Old friends, new friends, kids, and kids of kids, and so on.
Catch up on who's lost their hair, who got married or divorced or whatever.
See the new babies, see how tall the old babies have gotten, and that kind of thing.
And remember details like:
The Great Crash. And the OTHER Great Crash. ... no... I meant the OTHER other Great Crash.
Who had changed their 'handle' the most.
"Asleep at the keyboard"
Softball games, beach trips, midnight GTs, staff meetings.
After all, it was the people that made the Pen the Pen. Without them, the board was just a collection of more or less obsolete computers and state of the art equipment, '?how many?' modems, and God's Own Collection of cables.
So for everybody to catch up there was a "Ten Year Reunion, one year early."
In spite of it being the hottest day of the year by the Heat Index.....
All kinds of people showed up. A rough count put it at about forty to fifty counting kids and spouses and hangers on and those who just wandered through.
Hamburgers were cooked with a machete- 'you'd have to be a Penner to understand'.
And it would appear that everybody had a good time.
Which was the point of the exercise right? "of course right"
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[NOTE: Playpen, telex, q-modem, and all related identifying names and marks are properties of their respective owners. All individuals represented are private citizens and real names are not used by the Desk. The Media Desk is not affiliated or otherwise attached to any of them. The Media Desk is a registered fully qualified domain operating as a Journalistic outlet. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of anything affiliated with the Pen. ]