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XBBS - Dialup hypertext

I'm not quite sure where the time I spent on XBBS, my dialup hypertext system, fits in this vocational - avocational dialectic. It was a huge time-sink that was supposed to somehow make money ....

XBBS was a multi-user BBS that ran under DOS, without special hardware - originally, it ran five users (four dialup and one local) on a Victor, a 5MHz 8086. The whole thing was structured as a multi-tasking state mechine (C Users Journal, Nov '92) which is a technology I briefly considered trying to patent, before finding that I had merely re-invented it.

The sense in which XBBS was hypertext was that it descended (via a system called Stuart II from Dave Winer's LBBS, which was an outline structured BBS. This meant that every message could have any number of replies, and you could easily follow the different branches of a conversation.

In 1985 (or so) the descriptively-named XBBS attempted to improve on this outline structured model by making the message base graph structured - every message could appear under any number of parents. However, while the graph structure was useful for a few top-level messages, I don't know that anyone used it except me.

XBBS had some cool text device drivers that did things like strip blanks from the ends of lines, and convert strings of blanks to ^I (tab stop) characters. This made a really visible difference over slow dialup lines. It also had device-independent highlighting - messages could contain ^N (ASCII 'shift out') or ^O (ASCII 'shift in'), and the device driver would translate into whatever bolding sequence your terminal understood - and a "soft tab" mechanism that made it really easy to build simple tables.

All in all, though, there was just too much complexity for a user interface that relied on single key press commands. (No command line - just press w and away you go. Imagine what line noise could do!) Also, by the late '80's, discussion boards were dying - it was getting easier and easier to get Usenet accounts, and have global discussions instead of merely local ones.

I kept XBBS alive for a number of years after it was no longer a viable online community - I couldn't bear to kill something that had helped my oldest son learn to read - but when we moved in 1995, I just couldn't justify paying to move my hunt group to a new location.

Created on May 13, 2003, last updated March 24, 2006 • Contact jon@midnightbeach.com