The Sysop Revisited

The sysop – that’s a word you seldom hear anymore. At one time, it occupied the same status as, for instance, the modern day phrase ‘influencer’. Different definitions, of course. A sysop was short for a systems operator, sort of like a system administrator (an ‘admin’ to most of us today). A sysop was the person who ran a bulletin board system, or BBS.

Back in the 1990s, just prior to the advent of widespread Internet access, much of what is now known as social media was carried out on much more technically challenging bulletin board systems – BBSs. Vendors such as Mustang Software and Galacticomm put out such products as Wildcat! and The Major BBS. They would run over standard telephone lines, which meant that you could only have as many people online concurrently as the number of phones lines the BBS had – and more importantly, the number of phone lines the sysop paid for! Most BBSs had only one or two lines. I knew of one very large and well-known BBS that had 16 telephone lines! And Boardwatch was the magazine to subscribe to. I still have a couple of issues, kept for memories. The image above from 25+ years ago is from one of mine boxed up in the attic.

Back then I was back in school again getting my Optics degree at UAHuntsville. At the time it was a dream of mine to start my own optics company making telescope optics. But I also wanted to be a Sysop, sitting there running my own BBS. Watching all the technical and social details, plus taking care of my own marketing,  promotions and system programming. Maybe even making it successful enough to make a living at it.

But never has an entire industry seen a more rapid decline than that of BBSs in the face of the approaching Internet. Fortunately, most everyone in the industry had the skills and knowledge to quickly transition to the new paradigm for global communication, leaving BBSs now as a distinct niche market.

For myself, I graduated, got a job, married, and settled into life. I pretty much didn’t give any mind to my notion of being a sysop for many long years. I might have recalled that earlier wish, just briefly, every couple of years.

Until just now!

You see, it dawned on me as I sit here, surrounded by multiple monitors. I have up on the laptop: my email, iTunes, Lightroom Classic (I do almost all my own photography and graphics). In various browser windows I’m monitoring traffic on my blog, checking out what others bloggers are posting. I’m looking at website stats, keyword trends (so I’ll be able to title and word my posts to better effect), plus other similar tasks.

In other words, I am doing the task of a sysop, only brought forward to today’s technology and unthought of opportunities from the 1990s. I guess it’s true that some thing stay the same amidst all the changes in life. A sort of self-fulfilled ideal.

Now if only it would make a living!

About Phill Gibson

I'm from Huntsville, Alabama where I work as a Software Engineer and part-time banjo instructor. My wife Miiko and I worship at Rivertree Downtown. I've been playing various instruments since my teen years. I started mandolin and dulcimer at about age 17 and banjo at 20. I love just about all kinds of music. In terms of banjo styles, I play and teach Scruggs, melodic, clawhammer, and 2-finger styles. I'm also very keen on theology, being a Trail Care Partner with the Land Trust of North Alabama, photography, urban planning, architecture, astronomy, ATM (amateur telescope making), birding, martial arts, and about 30 other distracting hobbies to a (mercifully) lesser extent.
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