Creating your own BBS: the nuts and bolts to setting up online.
"When you have real-life customers online, you have to compete like the big boys," says Sanyakhu-Sheps Amare, principal owner of the Sphinx Communications Group, one of the nation's oldest commercial black-owned online services. "If you're not going to do it right, don't bother," he advises.
First, you need a computer. Even a slow 386 computer can support a BBS, as long as it has a serial port. But for optimum results, get a system that has at least 8 MB RAM, a 1 gigabyte hard drive and a multiport communications board. Having a computer with loads of memory and hard disk space will allow you to run better bulletin board software, providing your users with access to more files, which can keep them using your service for longer periods of time. Because a BBS requires your full attention, plan on having at least two computers--one for the BBS and another to run business affairs, such as record keeping and generating invoices.
You'll also need modems--one for each phone line you have. You should have a minimum of two; the more lines you have, the more simultaneous users you can have. A 28.8K baud modem is the fastest standard you can purchase. They cost around $200, and save you and your users money. At the 28.8K baud speed, less time is spent downloading or uploading files. This eliminates annoying busy signals that prevent other customers from logging into your system, which is, of course, how you make money. (Note: Do not order features such as call waiting on your BBS telephone lines. They can interfere with the transferring of files.
After you've purchased the essential hardware, it's time to shop for BBS software. Most packages are Dos-based and come with similar features, including uploading/downloading, posting and reading messages. Some BBS software, such as TRIBBS and VirtualNet, is available as shareware, downloadable from other BBSs or commercial online services. If you dedicate a powerful computer to your BBS, it's best to buy client server software such as Worldgroup by Galacticomm ($595, 800-828-1128), says Ray Werner, author of BBS Secrets. Client server software allows the user's computer to run under Windows and the BBS computer to run under DOS or UNIX.
Werner currently uses Wildcat by Mustang Software ($129, 800-999-9619), but there are many packages to choose from. Mustang even offers several versions of Wildcat, including Wildcat Multi-line Platinum, which can support up to 250 concurrent users. A popular Windows-based bulletin board software package is MindWire by DCN ($495, 805-961-8700). It presents users with a graphical interface similar to that of commercial online services. For Macintosh users, FirstClass by SoftArc ($295, 905-415-7000), NovaServer by ResaNova ($119, 714-379-9000) and TeleFinder by Spider Island ($695, 714-453-8095) offer the tools to set up a full-featured BBS.
Now you're ready to bring your BBS online. Here, a detailed plan, including how you want the layout of your BBS to look and what type of content you plan to offer, is essential. "One of the main reasons BBSS fail is lack of organization," cautions Werner.
Installing the software properly is tedious but crucial to your success. While you're installing it, you will have to configure the software to suit your needs. The software will give you options for setting up a BBS, including customizing the main menu and setting up security measures (such as the option of verifying all users before they gain access). If you plan to offer your users access to files, you'll need to create paths to those files. Every software package is slightly different, so following set-up instructions is important.
After your BBS has been configured properly and is running smoothly, you'll need a system operator (sysop) to operate it. Don't let a 15-year-old hacker run your BBS--you wouldn't let a kid run your regular office. And don't enroll yourself into computer programming 101.
"You don't have to have a degree in computer science," says Jerome Rice, a BBS hardware and software retailer in Fresno, Calif. "As long as you can read and comprehend, you can run a BBS."
If you decide that you will run your BBS, plan on devoting at least two hours a night to maintaining and updating files regularly. If you're not comfortable with computers, or don't have the time, you may want to consider hiring a bulletin board consultant or management team to create, maintain and operate your system, such as Amare's Sphinx Group. He says the primary reason businesses turn to him is they don't want to allocate the time or personnel it requires to run a BBS.
Of course, hiring someone to run your BBS will cost more money. How much money? You could spend as little as $300 or as much as $300,000 to get your BBS fully operational.
"You can't take this lightly--you have to treat it like a regular business," says Amare. "Just like with a regular business, people like to know who's going to be there to meet and greet them."
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|Title Annotation:||online Business Bulletin Board; includes a related article on accessing Black BBS listings on the Internet, and a resource file|
|Author:||Corbett, Merlisa Lawrence|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1995|
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