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Ward Christensen Founds the Computerized Bulletin Board System, the First Dial-UP CBBS

Ward Christensen and original hardware of the CBBS. Photo taken in 2005.

Ward Christensen and original hardware of the CBBS. Photo taken in 2005.

On February 16, 1978 Ward Christensen founded the Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS), the first dial-up bulletin board system (BBS) ever brought online, as a program to allow Christensen and other hobbyists in Chicago to exchange information. This was distinct from Community Memory, a BBS established in Berkeley in 1973, that used hard-wired terminals placed around the town.

"In January 1978, Chicago was hit by the Great Blizzard of 1978, which dumped record amounts of snow throughout the midwest. Among those caught in it were Christensen and Randy Suess, who were members of CACHE, the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists' Exchange. They had met at that computer club in the mid 1970s and become friends.

"Christensen had created a file transfer protocol for sending binary computer files through modem connections, which was called, simply, MODEM. Later improvements to the program motivated a name change into the now familiar XMODEM. The success of this project encouraged further experiments. Christensen and Suess became enamored of the idea of creating a computerized answering machine and message center, which would allow members to call in with their then-new modems and leave announcements for upcoming meetings.

"However, they needed some quiet time to set aside for such a project, and the blizzard gave them that time. Christensen worked on the software and Suess cobbled together an S-100 computer to put the program on. They had a working version within two weeks, but claimed soon afterwards that it had taken four so that it wouldn't seem like a "rushed" project. Time and tradition have settled that date to be February 16, 1978.

"Because the Internet was still small and not available to most computer users, users had to dial CBBS directly using a modem. Also because the CBBS hardware and software supported only a single modem for most of its existence, users had to take turns accessing the system, each hanging up when done to let someone else have access. Despite these limitations, the system was seen as very useful, and ran for many years and inspired the creation of many other bulletin board systems.

"Ward & Randy would often watch the users while they were online and comment or go into chat if the subject warranted. Sometime online users wondered if Ward & Randy actually existed.

"The program had many forward thinking ideas, now accepted as canon in the creation of message bases or "forums" (Wikipedia article on CBBS, accessed 04-27-2009).

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