Several years ago I received a phone call from Jason Scott, asking if he could come down and interview me for a documentary on the development of the Computer Bulletin Board System – BBS. I affably agreed to the visit.

He arrived camera and kit akimbo and we chatted for an hour or so on camera. Jason was an aspiring “indie” or independent film maker, an ongoing oddity in commercial film and documentary production. Occasionally one of these guys does “break out” into some commercial success. Chris Paine of Who Killed the Electric Car would be an interesting example.

There is an interesting phenomenon in that if you are early in a game and indeed pioneer it, somehow you “deserve” to be one of the ones who profit from it when it occurs. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case actually. And the reason is that the early pioneers have a specific belief system and vision of the future. As the every changing ever variable future unfolds, too many cling to the original “vision” rather than the much more exciting (to me) reality.

After several years of trying to get his documentary on the world of the BBS published, Scott has apparently given up and posted it on YouTube. Ironically, he still doesn’t get it and has specifically blocked the “embedding” feature on the release and so at this point sports almost 11 viewers of segment 2.01. In a world of exploding video, on a service that now hosts about 70% of all video shot world wide in the history of video, he still wants “control” and to somehow profit from it. Meanwhile we do 2 hours of video a week seen in 145 countries. The irony never ends. He is being left behind, in a world of EXPLODING opportunity in video, because it doesn’t match his vision of “professionalism.” It is a sad laugh, but a laugh nonetheless.


More ironically, this is actually the theme of the video segment shown here. We started in the online milieu with Fidonet in St. Louis at its inception in the early 1980s. In 1987, I published the first Denver PC Boardwatch newsletter in Denver Colorado. This grew to become Boardwatch Magazine. Along the way we started the BBSCON convention with Phil Becker of TBBS, and eventually this become the Internet Service Provider Convention or ISPCON. I sold it all in 1998, about a year before the Internet bubble burst, wiping out many hundreds of Internet related companies. The network of course survived with many successful companies since.

From our first issue, we included tips and tricks using TELNET and FTP on the Internet. I never did quite delineate a difference between the Internet and dial-up bulletin board systems. Indeed, we didn’t precisely delineate between commercial services such as CompuServe, GEnie, C-NET which became AOL, and electronic bulletin boards or the Internet. It was all part of a millieu of online communications using modems and indeed for many years Internet access was dialup, BBS were dialup, and all of it was quite tied in with Commercial services as well. The lines between them were heroic fabrications of some of the more religious adherents, and didn’t precisely exist. It’s kind of like going out into west Texas or Arizona and looking for the border with Mexico. It’s gotta be here somewhere, I saw it on a map someone drew.

We broke the game on the “secret” ways you could address mail on COmpuServe or GEnie and get them to transit the Internet, to the OTHER service, or to a Unix machine on the network, or to another bulletin board system. I actually wrote an assembly language program that ran on PCs and did the Unix to Unix copy program to swap e-mail between electronic bulletin boards and the Internet.

Most of the Internet Service Providers, and at its peak there were some 7500 of them in the U.S., were BBS operators. Once they started offering direct access to the Internet, their cash flows improved markedly and they kind of needed a new name. We coined the term Internet Service Provider and they became ISPs.

We talked about the Internet all along and I patiently explained in issue after issue of Boardwatch what was coming, what it meant, and how you connected to it. We did the definitive tutorial on installing TRUMPET on Windows so you could do a SLIP connection to the Internet on your PC and run MOZILLA – the web browser. This became THE document ISPs gave new customers to help them do the icky but necessary configuration to make Windows play on the Internet, which Bill Gates did not consider sufficiently robust for “business applications” which is what he was all about in those days.

The guys that listened did very well by the way. Most of them became ISPs and profited handsomely during a later consolidation phase in the early years of this century. EXEC-PC was sold for $21 million. Many others went at various prices from a few hundred thousand up to many millions, depending on their customer base = typically $240 per subscriber. A very heady number.

But many others clung to the vision they had prepared for, and a lot of companies went from being superstars with the phones ringing constantly and money pouring in through the ceiling tiles to selling off the office furniture at 10 cents on the dollar in a matter of months when it all finally matured. They relate the excitement and the passion with a nostalgic view of the way things were in the good old days. In the good old days, things changed daily. And if you didn’t reinvent yourself daily, you were left by the wayside.

Tim Stryker had dome very well with Galacticomm, but didn’t really think the Internet would be a factor. He went up on a mountain top and shot himself in the head in 1996, ergo the dedication at the end of this segment. He was 41 years old with several children. He was a bright, intense guy and though I didn’t always please him, I considered him one of the heroes. But he was wed to HIS vision of it and refused to adapt.

Phil Becker morphed eSoft into an Internet appliance for businesses with a cunningly managed firewall before firewalls were well understood, took the company public and eventually sold out as well. He’s done some curious work on online identity in recent years. I of course sold Boardwatch and ISPCON in 1998 and moved on. Tried golf and failed at it. Now electric vehicles. But more were left along the trail than wound their way through the hazards and prospered. Usually by clinging to a vision that was about what they WANTED it to be rather than what it was going to be.

Readers of Boardwatch who heeded the word by and large did very well. We paid as much attention to human nature, desires, and motivators as we did to the technology. Actually human desire is all about what DRIVES technology, not the other way around. And looking back on what we wrote in teh course of a dozen years, it is kind of amazing how clearly we hit on so many things. Not 100% but way into the 80’s.

No one can tell the future. But some of us are better at it than others.

The Internet was driven, from the beginning entirely by passion. Electric Vehicles share that aspect and it is largely why I’m here. This is the NEW frontier with people in it who are passionate and enthusiastic and having a terrifying EXCITEMENT in doing it. That’s what I look for and that’s where I live. Once Wall Street and the townies arrive, I’m long gone.

We have a long bloody road ahead. And it will change and evolve EVERY DAY. So much so that a “monthly” can’t do it justice. It has to be weekly. Indeed, I just can’t DO a daily video. I can’t do it physically.

If you are wed to one holy and pure vision of how it will go, you will be rewarded with the vision, but perhaps not with success. If you pay close attention to reality, we are entering a zone of INTENSE opportunity. I will take great joy in your success. And some sadness in watching many early pioneers fade from the scene, imprisoned in their vision of how it could have should have been. These are CHOICES. Not random events. It doesn’t HAPPEN to you. You make it happen.

This little documentary is well enough done that you get a sense from those who were left behind, and others such as Tim Pozar and Phil Becker who profited and went on to other things. Tom Jennings, not mentioned, actually STARTED the International Fidonet that linked all these bulletin board systems somewhere in the 1983-1985 area. But he went on early to start The Little Garden, or I think that was the name of it, a very early ISP in San Francisco. He sold it for an undisclosed but substantial sum several years later. He also drove a Propane powered Rambler in those very early days. Successful pioneers just have a habit of pioneering. Always on to the next thing.

It has come to my attention that many of our EVtv viewers are really net heads. Today IT is kind of less exciting. More like a JOB. The prairie has been settled. But the urge to recapture those days of excitement and passion and enthusiasms and FUN remains. I think they’ll show up here. I think they already are.

Welcome. If you think the last gig was hard but exciting, wait till you get a load of changing the way the world DRIVES. It’s a bit of a challenge.

Jack Rickard


  1. Thank you for posting this Jack. Being a former SysOp of a hobby board myself, this documentary kinda hits home. I now understand WHY Boardwatch was so successful, and what you’re trying to do with EVTV. Smart. Very smart.

  2. It’s going to be hard to catch you Jack…
    I’m blown away. I finalized a skid load order yesterday, just before lunch I do believe.
    I’m a days drive away…if you drive fast.
    It arrived here today, via semi-truck, at our dock and it was just about lunch time.

    Even better…Jack put an extra xmas present inside…

    Thank You!

  3. Thanks Jack for posting the video and I did watch a couple extra snippets. I remember what happened to the printing industry when the computer and ink jet printer came to life. Most of all the small to medium and some large print shops across America just up and vanished. I remember people in our shop complaining about the computers and desktop publishing taking away the prepress portions of the shop and they just complained and complained and I told them to either learn the new or be left behind. Many just gave up and never worked again because new blood took their place and they were unwilling to learn the new stuff. Being left behind is totally a choice. Life is dynamic. Technology is dynamic.

    Even my little print shop died. No one needed a print shop anymore when you can do it at home or office in the quantities needed.

    I had even gone to the electronic prepress but when the inkjet printer could print photo quality the print shops just died. It was a mass extinction. Bet it was the same with the BBS Boards.

    Good you got out when you did.

    Pete πŸ™‚

    1. Timing being the better part of everything. Yes, many BBS died. Would you believe there are still hundreds of them out there. And many changed. And became ISPs. and many ISPS sold out and some still operate today – even small ones.

      It’s a rich tapestry and a bubbling cauldron. Of course there are dangers, they lurk behind every opportunity. Of course you can work as an accountant for a church. But lightning can strike there as well.

      Each decade has its frontier of opportunity. I think this one is electric vehicles. But yes, you have to be able to steer.

      Jack Rickard

  4. Ahh! I see your bearded biker friend has made a proper webpage out of it to flog DVD’s. πŸ˜‰

    Lots of the old style web pages abound!

    I give up. The list keeps on growing.

  5. Very good point that Pete.
    Too many were drained from the pond.
    I was with the local BBS as soon as cable phones came into my area who offered free local calls after 8pm.
    Then said cable company offered internet. First the new people with audio modems which worried the local BBS. Then the big stuff which did not use your phone line and offered a BBS killing 56kbyte/s for not a lot of money more. Then they took away free calls for data; the contract was valid for voice only. Local BBS was lured and killed.

    Sadly, the local BBS with an internet gateway had so much going for it. The guys were cool, the chicks were hot and everyone could really party! I tell you, the media was terrified of this new thing and were attempting to scare parents from their kids going in “chat rooms”, naming/shaming users as “geeks” and info thieves. The Government hadn’t a clue what it was all about and certainly did not know at the time it was fresh territory they could conquer, track and manipulate the people with.

    So where is this going to take us…
    Wanting to bring back the old days and being a natural rebel I installed Freenet, a decentralised, encrypted, IPV6 network. Found the windows program was not without trust issues.

    I’m also a radio ham and think DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) is well cool as a $20 receiving system (***). So is packet radio etc. But with modern data compression techniques and localised P2P wifi networking… My local zone and beyond could have a totally free internet cloud. Or should we say FIDONET cloud πŸ˜‰

    Must not omit the last “Burning Man” arty camp out in the US Desert. One guy got a short licence with a cell phone carrier and set up his own tower which was there to bring everyone together.

    So, local networks should and might have a future if an area wants to be brought together again. It may be slower to cross connect but for the local old ladies who can’t walk to church any more to the guy in his car and no data money in his cell phone for directions…..

    (***)e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0hEquzLsWU
    Or simply Google (I use https://startpage.com) “RTL-SDR”.

  6. Jack,
    Thanks for your fine personal example of a “bubbling caldron of innovation” along the “Technology Adoption Curve” I hope the “1000 builders of EV’s” do it again.
    Mark Yormark

    1. It would appear so. And their barbecue is probably better too. That’s quite a lot of charge points in Kansas City. We have a few here in Cape but they’re not even on the map.

      In fact, there are four brand new ones up at our brand new Federal Courthouse. AVCON paddles by the looks of them and still zip tied to the posts, never used by anyone.

      Jack Rickard

  7. Wow, TRUMPET, that is way back. Peter Tattam, the author still resides in my home town of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. He ran an ISP here called TrumpNet for some years too.

  8. Hi Jack! In those days of TRUMPET, Mozilla did not exist, THE Web Browser that changed everything was MOSAIC, then Netscape, then Mozilla and everything else. I was fascinated by MOSAIC back in 1993/1994, a cross platform golden piece of software and so I am now with the EV world. Lithium cells are somehow the MOSAIC of EVs, you opened my eyes on this a few months ago when you told me “Lead is dead”, you are damn right! Thanx for all you teach us Jack. Have a wonderful Xmas

    1. You are quite correct. MOSAIC. In one of those Godwink moments of my life, I happened to be on the ftp site at University of Champaign Urbanna at midnight, November 30th of that year. A new file set suddenly appeared while I was watching. That was when they posted MOSAIC. I downloaded the files and installed them and was up until about 10:00 in the morning getting it up and running. We were to go to the printer that next day with the January 1994 issue of Boardwatch Magazine. In those days of print, everything showed up a month later of course. We didn’t go to the printer.

      I spent the next several days playing with MOSAIC and wrote a lengthy piece on it and what it would mean in the future and in retrospect, thoroughly nailed it in all respects. It was our January 1994 cover story. We pretty much scooped every media on the planet with that story and it put Boardwatch rather on the map. The phones rang all day every day.

      In 2008 I accidentally found I could order cells from China with some remarkable claims. I did. They did. And the batteries we had waited over a hundred years for were here. But it almost seemed nobody noticed. Lead is SO dead. And an electric car is now viable as a car.

      It’s just an expensive car.

      And the only way I know of to minimize the expense such that it can be had, is to build them yourself. Fotunately, it’s pretty easy to do. You swap the motor, and add batteries. The rest of the car is pretty much the same. But all the stuff that goes with the gasoline motor can just go away.

      Some minor electronics to get your 12v system working and hook up your throttle. And of course you have to be able to recharge the batteries.

      Is this a moment? Yah.

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