The Null Device

Ghost towns of cyberspace

From the 1980s to the late 1990s, the phone network was full of dial-up bulletin board systems (BBSs), where users could dial in with their 14.4k modems, download the latest shareware, post messages in forums, and play text-based multi-user games. Then the internet came along and these systems disappeared; some converted into internet nodes, reachable by Telnet, or into web-based forums, and many were merely switched off when the interest ran out. Though it appears that some BBSes were neither switched off nor connected to the internet, and exist to this day, reachable by anyone with a modem, in an eerie, Pripyat-like state of suspended animation, like zombie-filled ghost towns or something:
Each BBS is a unique a time capsule, stocked with trinkets and ephemera from the period. On message boards, you'll find posts from 1994 about the O.J. Simpson trial and which player-made Doom levels are best. In file transfer sections you'll run across large archives of long-forgotten Windows 3.1 screen savers. In door sections (online games), you'll find abandoned TradeWars 2002 games, still in progress, that haven't been touched in eight years. And of course, the Ferrengi have completely taken over.
All this makes me wonder why the Sysops who own these BBSes keep them running with such little traffic. Did they just forget to turn off their machines in 1998 as the Internet finally swept away the traditional US BBS scene? Did the old Sysops die and nobody noticed that the automated machines were still running, undetected, in a dusty back room somewhere? The possibilities are incredibly compelling; they really stir the imagination.
There are ways of virtually "dialling out" to these BBSes using VoIP (at least with the boxes you can plug a regular phone (or modem) into). The voice compression techniques apparently don't cause problems. I wonder whether anyone has developed a software-only "modem" which connects to SIP or Skype and lets the user dial numbers and connect to things like BBSes.

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