Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 127 / MARCH 1991 / PAGE 82

How to be a good BBS citizen. (computer bulletin boards) (column)
by George Campbell

Calling local or national BBS systems offers an opportunity to expand your horizons, make new friends, and interact, sometimes anonymously, with scores of other users. Going online can release your inhibitions, allowing you to take on a new personality and express yourself more freely. This has some real benefits, but it can also lead to lapses of good taste you may later regret.

Even the way you use the BBS itself can be a source of concern. Do the wrong thing, and you could cause a systems crash - an unforgivable sin.

Many sysops find themselves agonizing over what takes place on their systems. They don't want to deny access to users who abuse privileges, but sometimes they have no other option. Recent libel lawsuits have held sysops responsible for their users' actions.

Fortunately, it's easy to avoid the most common online faux pas. Here's a set of basic modern manners that will make you welcome on any BBS.

When leaving messages, public or private, on a BBS, use the same language you would use face-to-face with a friend. Obscenities are strictly bush league; there's always a better way to make your point. Similarly, avoid personal attacks against other users. It's OK to disagree with another user, but don't resort to name-calling or flaming others in your messages.

Watch your private E-mail messages, too. Most BBS software doesn't allow complete privacy. Chances are the sysop can read all messages left on the system. Most sysops don't do this, but keep your E-mail within the bounds of decency.

Keep your hormones in check as well. Sexual harassment in E-mail messages is an all-too-common problem in the BBS community. If you've ever wondered why there are so few women online, this is a major reason.

Most systems have an unpopular member or two who use the message areas as forums for interminable diatribes on religious or political issues. Don't be tempted into responding - it only encourages them.

Avoid sloppy spelling, grammar, and punctuation in online messages, too. Take the time to write clear, readable messages. Remember that you're putting your words on hundreds of computer screens.

The sysop is the ruler of the BBS domain. In most cases, the BBS is an expensive and time-consuming hobby. Developing a good relationship with the sysop just makes good sense.

Every BBS has a set of rules, which are usually spelled out in a bulletin somewhere on the system. In most cases, these rules make sense and are easy to follow. Break them regularly, and you may find yourself without access.

The first time you call most systems, even those that allow nicknames (or "handles"), you'll be asked for your name and phone number. Don't give false information; the sysop will find out and deny you access to the BBS.

Take the time to read bulletins and help screens on the system. Not only will this eliminate confusion. but it will also help you get more from your time online. Before sending a message to the sysop asking for help, try solving problems yourself.

If you do need to ask for help with a problem, be sure to give all the details. Tell the sysop what communications program you're using and describe the problem completely, including any messages you saw on the screen. Simply saying I can't download any files isn't enough.

When using a system's message tools, you have an opportunity to help the sysop. After you've read messages addressed to yourself, especially private ones, delete them.

When it's time to hang up, always use the good-bye command in the BBS's menu. Using your communication program's hang-up command could crash the BBS software.

Take a moment now and then to let the sysop know that you appreciate having access to the BBS.

Exchanging public domain and shareware programs and files is the most popular BBS activity. Here, too, good BBS manners are important.

When downloading files, don't abort the process unnecessarily. If you must stop a transfer in progress, use your software's command to end the transfer and then use the BBS's command (usually Ctrl-X) to signal the canceled transfer. Dropping the connection with your software's hang-up command could cause a fatal crash.

Let the sysop know if there's a problem with a file you've downloaded. It's impossible for most sysops to run every piece of software uploaded. If you like a program, post a review on the BBS as a public message.

Before uploading a file, make sure the program you're going to upload is recent and not already available on the BBS. Upload only those files you've tested and found useful.

Above all, never, never upload a commercial program. In a number of cases, sysops have been prosecuted for software piracy after a user has uploaded a commercial program. If you're not sure of a file, keep it off the phone lines. Also, before uploading any program, use one of the many virus-detection programs, like Scan, to make sure you aren't accidentally passing along an infected file.