Skip to Content
Uncategorized

From Bulletin Boards to Blogs

Online communities thrived long before the advent of Web logs.
September 1, 2003

Web logs, or “blogs”-easy-to-update personal online journals-have swept the country in recent years. A popular blog application, Blogger, owned by Mountain View, CA-based Google, has more than a million registered users. But the blog isn’t the first online community; that was created a quarter-century ago.

During a severe Chicago snowstorm in January 1978, IBM systems engineer Ward Christensen telephoned his friend, electronics technician Randy Suess, to chat. They were both members of the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyist’s Exchange, a local club for tech enthusiasts who, in that pre-PC era, had built their own home computers. Christensen and Suess started discussing the club newsletter, which was always looking for articles. The previous year, Christensen had written a pioneering computer program, later called “Xmodem,” that allowed people to exchange files over phone lines via their brand-new modems. Christensen mused about how convenient it would be if club officers could simply download articles to a central computer, then print them for inclusion in the club newsletter. He and Suess soon began speculating about a system that would serve the same function as the club’s corkboard, where members posted index cards for one another to read.

In the heat of inspiration, Christensen tackled the software and Suess the hardware. Within just two weeks, the Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS) was born. Users would call up a computer at Suess’s house, which, thanks to his innovations, automatically booted up Christensen’s software when the phone rang. Browsing and posting messages required a few simple keyboard commands. The system became wildly popular, with hundreds of users discussing all sorts of subjects, and Christensen was soon inundated with requests for the BBS software. He still considered it strictly a hobbyist phenomenon, however, and didn’t think his employers at IBM would be interested. But even without corporate backing, BBSs spread like wildfire during the 1980s and into the ’90s.

The rise of the Internet, though, brought the BBS era to a close. Many of its functions were taken over by e-mail, online newsgroups, and later, blogs. The original CBBS finally shut down in the early 1990s after connecting with more than a quarter-million callers. Christensen, still at IBM, modestly asserts that he and Suess were just in the right place at the right time: “It was not revolutionary, just evolutionary.”

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Investing in people is key to successful transformation

People-related factors like talent attraction and retention and clear top-down communication will determine whether your transformation progresses or stalls.

Work reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

As organizations navigate a new world of hybrid work, tech innovation will be crucial for employee connection and collaboration.

The way forward: Merging IT and operations

Digital transformation in any industry begins with bridging the gap between two traditionally separate teams.

be a good example concept
be a good example concept

Be a good example

"It was in the newspaper, but the towers fell the next day, and what I’d done was quickly lost."

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.