Lessons of Social Media from BBSs

In the recent article The Internet Origin Story You Know Is Wrong, I was somewhat surprised to see the argument that BBSs are a part of the Internet origin story that is often omitted. Surprised because I was there for BBSs, and even ran one, and didn’t really consider them part of the Internet story myself. I even recently enjoyed a great BBS documentary and still didn’t think of the connection on this way.

But I think the argument is a compelling one.

In truth, the histories of Arpanet and BBS networks were interwoven—socially and materially—as ideas, technologies, and people flowed between them. The history of the internet could be a thrilling tale inclusive of many thousands of networks, big and small, urban and rural, commercial and voluntary. Instead, it is repeatedly reduced to the story of the singular Arpanet.

Kevin Driscoll goes on to highlight the social aspects of the “modem world”, how BBSs and online services like AOL and CompuServe were ways for people to connect. And yet, AOL members couldn’t easily converse with CompuServe members, and vice-versa. Sound familiar?

Today’s social media ecosystem functions more like the modem world of the late 1980s and early 1990s than like the open social web of the early 21st century. It is an archipelago of proprietary platforms, imperfectly connected at their borders. Any gateways that do exist are subject to change at a moment’s notice. Worse, users have little recourse, the platforms shirk accountability, and states are hesitant to intervene.

Yes, it does. As he adds, “People aren’t the problem. The problem is the platforms.”

A thought-provoking article, and I think I’ll need to buy the book it’s excerpted from!

11 thoughts on “Lessons of Social Media from BBSs

  1. Federated nodes are a great way to get small communities going. Having a common interest that unites you, and having access to find and interact with the federation.

    Pleroma for life, breaks down a lot of walls but you pretty much know the “group” a person might be hailing from so you have some context to who they might know, be aware of, and what they might be ok with in conversation.

    Just avoid the weirdos, we aren’t all strange over there, plenty of great people.

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