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Bulletin board basics.

With bulletin board systems, you can start small and build big.

Bulletin board Systems (BBS) have been around in some fashion for more than a decade, but not until the past few years have technological capabilities made it possible to exploit their full potential. Associations, like a host of other organizations, are seriously exploring them as a way to communicate with members, prospects, and the general public.

In its most basic form, a bulletin board runs on a host system (usually a designated personal computer) equipped with a single-line modem. Users dial into the system through a standard telephone line and log onto the BBS. Though the BBS may have many users, in single-line mode, only one user can be active at a time. As a practical matter, most systems come configured as 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32- simultaneous-user systems. The number of simultaneous users depends on the type of software used and your hardware capabilities.

A BBS seems a perfect fit for the field of association management, since most associations are in the business of providing valuable information to members and the general public about the industries or professions they serve. For example, the Cosmetic Toiletry and Fragrance Association, Inc., Washington, D.C., uses its BBS to allow access to technical information important to the cosmetics industry and enables corporate research personnel to search a database of subjects related to the cosmetics industry.

According to Gene Del Polito, executive director of the Advertising Mail Marketing Association, Washington, D.C., the big advantage of a bulletin board is the ability to tailor information for member use and provide that information in a fast, convenient manner. AMMA's bulletin board, America Post, contains data on postal regulations and rates, current news on postal oversight issues, and general information on the state of the mailing industry. AMMA staff members gather information from a host of internal and external sources and then edit and refine the information before placing it on America Post. For example, AMMA was able to gather both the background information and rate charts on the recent postal rate recommendations and make the information available within hours, enabling AMMA members immediate access and reinforcing AMMA as the central communication point on advertising mail issues.

BBS tips

Jim Saville, a bulletin board consultant and systems network specialist with Systems America Corporation, Laurel, Maryland, offers these five suggestions for those thinking about developing a BBS.

1. Have a good idea of what you want the system to do and how you want the bulletin board to perform. Appearance and functionality are very important. Don't expect immediate success; rather, plan to build your bulletin board slowly.

2. When looking at BBS packages, understand the difference between multi-line systems, which run all telephone lines in through one personal computer, and multi-node systems, which have multiple personal computers all interconnected as part of the same BBS.

3. Get the fastest personal computers and the fastest moderns your budget permits. If you have the money for bells and whistles, Saville recommends a 486 computer with 16MB RAM and a 500MB hard disk. For the budget conscious, he suggests a 386 computer with at least a 40MB drive.

4. Be aware of the various connectivity options, and determine which you want for your association's bulletin board system. Do you want Internet access? Log-in capabilities from your in-house local area network? Dial-up access only?

5. Make sure you are comfortable with whomever you are buying your bulletin board system from. Investigate credentials and capabilities. A bulletin board needs to be structured so that the software can be reconfigured in accordance with the changing needs and requirements of your association.

You can rent, too

Some consultants, such as Rick Rumbarger, president of Advanced Business Solutions, Fairfax, Virginia, offer space on their corporate bulletin boards for associations to rent if they do not want to assume the expense or staff and time commitments entailed in setting up and maintaining a BBS. One advantage to renting, says Rumbarger, is that you get the opportunity to learn how to develop and manage a BBS and perfect your bulletin board before going "live" with a system that you own and operate.

However you decide to go about it, it's a good idea to consult with a systems professional with expertise in bulletin boards before acquiring the hardware or software. And it may be wise to survey members to determine their level of need for the information you plan to place on your bulletin board.

Maynard H. Benjamin, CAE, is president of the Envelope Manufacturers Association of America, Alexandria, Virginia.
COPYRIGHT 1995 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Benjamin, Maynard H.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Feb 1, 1995
Words:765
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