BBS, The Nostalgic Introduction (prelude)

Kerim at Keywords had asked me a lot of serious, not easy to answered questions. These questions are like “any library bibliography online service provide BibTex format for Chinese books" and others. Usaually, I start to smile bitterly and start to busily look for answers. Just like my other cool friends (they are asking questions about digital archives, cough…), those questions are serious and also interesting for folk people(鄉民) like me to play with. The process to answer those questions are difference creative challenges for me. I try to deliver “sweet" answer instead of “sorry, we Taiwanese people don’t care about interoperability issue". So his (and other interesting friends’) questions, and my folk problem-solving practices, make it cool.

Another question he thrown out one month ago when he mentioned about his students in east coast Taiwan is about BBS. “Why are these students crazy about such an expired technology?" he tried to climb out of tons of question marks weaved by dark theme screen, workstation towered, silly ASCII semi-animation BBS dungeon. I must admit he is absolutely right. BBS is old, ancient religious relics. It marked the era of UNIX, embodied the whole in similar form, little dark black community gazing at the same imaginary interface. Everybody (if there are really “bodies") tied to a central limited server, and meet one another in listing with descriptions of “ugly dragon" sort of label in mind. That’s our BBS.

But neither Kerim nor I could imagine the BBS technology today. Just like IRC is living well, BBS survive the WWW attack and gain more power, energy and features in the era of Web 2.0. It became the modern shrine of coolness, smart slangs emerge just as volcano explode (under the sea of web development) that no one knows but BBS users. Users, yes, I did say the word, average 20 thousands of people online today, in the same dungeon.(請參考維基百科批踢踢條目的說明) Connecting all college students of Taiwan, and their own connected culture. They are borged, and when your are giggling reading the “Hate" board(恨版 | 黑特版) entries and people’s moderation comments (推 | 噓), you are borged too.

It is Dragon Boat Festival today. While commenting 2260, our international figure of Taiwanese first family, is becoming the Taiwanese national movement, maybe we will start to get close to understand such a collective, powerless / powerful phenomena of 2006 Taiwan. BBS strikes back, mourning our lost in a poetic, nostogic way.

BBS, The Nostalgic Introduction (prelude) 有 “ 20 則留言 ”

  1. As a Chinese proverb goes, “When the orange is transplanted across the Huai River, it becomes citron." (What a messy translation, but you got the idea).

    So is BBS. Ancient technology? Yes. But when you begin to push the limits of the system, putting over 4GB RAM on a motherboard, modding FreeBSD kernel so it can handle over n connections (where n must be over 10k I believe) without crashing the system, when you can even write a paper on it… it’s not ancient technology anymore.

    Minitel is gone (or is it?) but BBS is not. So we’ve got our parallel world of technologies… Or do you want to put it in postcolonial context?

  2. You could link to the “hate board" because it is on the WWW (it also has an atom feed, and can be searched by google). When the whole BBS is accessible this way it won’t be a “parallel world" anymore – it will be the WWW. There are many other technologies out there still, like Usenet, KDX, Gnutella, etc., but the main attraction of most of those is the ability to illegally download film and music. However, something else seems to be going on with BBS. Most of the things done with it could be done much easier with blogging or forum software, or even something like Google Groups. What is the attraction of doing these things in such a difficult un-user-friendly manner? If there is a lot of activity going on that was of questionable legality I could understand, but in my brief look it appeared that most of what people were using it for was pretty much what forum software was designed to handle (without having to modd FreeBSD) … Lukhnos explains the attraction to tech geeks, but we aren’t talking about tech geeks, we are talking about ordinary college students, many of whom can barely figure out power point… I mean, we aren’t talking about something that looks like a badly designed web site, but rather something that doesn’t even let you use a mouse! I guess I can understand the “sense of community" argument, but wouldn’t it be easy enough to do that with PunBB or PHPBB?

  3. Also, there is a difference between “un-user-friendly" and difficult. It is not difficult to program the clock on your VCR, but it is so un-user-friendly that most people never bother to do so. (That’s why it blinks 00:00:00 on so many VCRs.)

  4. From technology point of view, BBS v.s. phpBB maybe be similary to command line v.s. GUI. But this may not correspond to what normal BBS user feel/think and the reason why they still do BBS. People use BBS but becuase they are geek and think command line is better.

    By the way, I don’t have answer to the question. Most of my BBS experience were in the time when web-based BBS is not mature/popular yet. It is also amazing to me that 80×24 text BBS is still so popular.

    To answer this question, maybe we have to think what is the thing the BBS can do while web-BBS cannot? The feeling of real-time? concurrent? Mabye after all, it is really the feeling of community in BBS is different….

  5. I think there’s a distinction between infrastructure and user-interface; there’s also another distinction between “software" (including infrastructure and UI) and “cutlure" (including content, user-generated or pre-given, static).

    People love something because of culture / content. Maybe we can trace back “into" software", discovering the killer tech component, but people still love the total, not the component.

    爾愛其羊,吾愛其禮 “Ts’ze, you love the sheep; I love the ceremony." Well said Confucius.

  6. Pektiong, most of my students use BBS, but they are not what I would call computer geeks. They don’t know anything about code, anything about the command line, anything about backend or code. In fact, they barely know anything about computers. I think Ilya is right that content trumps interface and this is the only reason that such a system can succeed – they like the content. But I still find it surprising that they are willing to use the interface considering how unfriendly it is compared to the alternatives.

  7. Kerim: maybe freedom is relative…. not absolute. Or maybe we can say freedom is a module plugin for the brain and mind? Or there are more complicated reasons behind *any* tangible, or intangible wall….

  8. Would it be possible that people (or university students?) in Taiwan prefer “serial" environment rather than parallel environment when they are “doing" (instead of searching) their activities. It is rather simple. I just keep thinking about Gregory Bateson’s notion about people like to make things simple.

    Whether it’s user friendly, or simple? Doesn’t it also depend on what’s the purpose of their activities? If they just want to get very basic entertainment from push/shush and quick swearing, it looks like a good place to go. Maybe in the beginning, it’s just about these small/simple funny things. Then it passed the tipping point and became a hit.

    No matter what’s the reason, it’s a damn good research topic for information anthropology. Go go!!

  9. B6s said: “commandline-holic". That also mentioned an inherited predicament / condition for CJKV environment: input method. While we are discussing about input method and why there’s few usage of pie menu in computer environment, using keyboard is fscking fast and convenient. Quicksilver is another example.

  10. June makes a good point. The reason the iPod is so successful is that (as studies have shown) iPod owners use their iPods much more than owners of other MP3 players use their devices. Why? Because the whole process streamlines certain tasks. Presumably the BBS user interface does this in some way. Perhaps my problem is that I’m looking at it and wondering how it allows me to do the tasks I already do on the web – like academic research, political blogging, etc. Maybe if what I really wanted to do was “push/shush and quick swearing" I would understand the appeal of BBS much better!

  11. June pointed out an interesting direction. Do BBS user feel more “connected" than web surfers? (Shall we compare PTT users to MySpace addicts?)

    On the other hand, BBS did have witnessed a boom when everything started to go online, but was badly integrated (because of the CJKV particularities) on the web. I’d also take a “history of (competing) technology" approach in seeing this.

    Kerim: Perhaps for Taiwanese/JP/KR/CN BBS users, web is more *unfriendly*. BBS, on the other hand, offers a unified and easy interface (you only need to use the arrow keys). There are guards and even institutions sieving bad guys out of the land (at least on mature sites systems like that seem to work). And there is no rootkits or ActiveX exploits… so it’s also relatively secure and insulated (if not isolated).

    Another often missed point while we talk about BBS is that BBS is not just bulletin boards. There are real-time updated user lists. Which offers its unique color and shine…. something you don’t find easy substitute/equivalent online. Think about this, seeing a user list of 4,500 (or ten times that) is all different from seeing a list in a web-based chatroom (which you have to consciously join) or seeing an MSN buddy list (which you build up). It’s really a different sense of community.

  12. Thanks June, Kerim and Lukhnos for the later part of discussion. One particular context of Chinese/Taiwanese/Jp/Kr/VietNam infomation infrastructure is, no matter what WebScape they had participated or witnessed, they need to be mediated by “Input Method". Input method is linear and “serial" condition for people to involve in WebScape. That’s an invisible perspective.

    ( Just like Elixus’ pioneers had pointed out, BBS is miniatured UNIX, or “command-line" environment. That’s where I thought “nostalgia" resides; they are metonymy relationship in a sense :P)

    But functional convenience, i.e. features like user list, waterball as message and anonymous/collectiveID posting, is another thing. “Ten times" as Lukhnos had mentioned, the scaling effect is another.

    Based on these different layers of scales, convenience and mini-total-system, people develop metonymy relationship, nostagic “coolness" (like 2ch or AALib, ASCII art / animation) as cult-ure. And again, culture (content) drags people in. The loop start.

  13. Lukhnos is right, I’ve seen how my students are completely unable to remember domain names – even for their own blogs. They often navigate by going to a top level site and then click-click-click until they drill down to their own blog. This isn’t just an input method related issue, but a script issue. I think it is especially bad for Taiwanese who have studied ZhuYinFuHao in school, because they are really not very comfortable with the Latin alphabet.

  14. 引用通告: How do you pronounce “革命ing”? | Savage Minds

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