Wishful Thinking Bulletin Board System
(was) FidoNet : 2:253/188.0
A Short History of ‘WT’
The only aspects of BBS I'm asked about these days are SMILEYS (or “emoticons”) and ACRONYMS, both of which are still relevant for today's email, although they are no longer used so frequently. For nostalgia (or amusement) check out our lists!
Wishful Thinking was established in mid 1994 as a Bulletin Board Service (BBS) specialising in Genealogy, and as part of the FidoNet Technology Network (FTN). Affectionately known amongst its regular users as “WT”, the purpose behind this web page is to record a little of its history.
Imagine, if you will, receiving calls from other online users direct to your PC at home. You will be connected directly by telephone line, so there is no Internet Service Provider involved, and there is little, or no security risk of anyone breaking into your PC, as all the necessary security checks will take place as part of the BBS software. You won't have the point-and-click web interface which is so familiar now, but you would have been used to selecting menu items by typing a number, or a letter on your keyboard to select options in the DOS programs you'd be running as a standard part of operating a PC, and that's also what you'd get on your dial-up connection.
Ok, I know this sounds rather primitive now, but this how we started researching Family History Online!
Behind the scenes, the BBS interface would have been set up by the SysOp, or System Operator. In the same way one usually had a choice of Word Processor, there were several different “flavours” of BBS software, Maximus and Remote Access being the two leading contenders. However, each BBS tended to be an individual creation, some of them very attractive indeed. In the early days the well-respected and aptly named ROOTS (UK!) was the place to be. One of my personal favourites presentation-wise was “Jackie's Place” operated by Jackie Surtees, who I think is still online on the Internet somewhere - she managed to achieve some very pretty designs using “ANSI” Art - pictures created simply from plain text characters and clever use of colour. She also had a copy of Ted Wildy's UK Marriage Witness Index online for interactive searching. However, interactive searching never really took off, as few of us could afford to spend the necessary time online, when the connection necessitated a long distance phone call. This was of course also true for the Internet, back in the early days when Demon Internet Services were the only suppliers!
As a SysOp, there is nothing quite like the “buzz” of one's first few callers, but believe me, being on the receiving end of a constant stream of enquiries (sometimes literally 24/7) can also be very stressful, as indeed anyone staffing a Help Desk will tell you! However, since I first joined FidoNet (New Year's Day, 1993) I really enjoyed being online; it was a great learning experience, and I made some very good friends, both amongst my users and with other SysOps.
Whilst BBS had many of the same features that we now find on the Internet - NetMail (one-to-one messages, equivalent to E-mail), EchoMail (equivalent to Newsgroups), File Areas (where you could download files, equivalent to ftp, or “Save this File to Disk” from your browser) and “Page the SysOp”, the nearest thing to IRC, Inter Relay Chat, where (if you were lucky and s/he was around), you could chat one-to-one with the SysOp. The world does however move on; and now the Internet provides far more than WT, or indeed any BBS ever did in the way of genealogical assistance. As a consequence, Wishful Thinking closed its dial-up line on 30th June 1999.
After this, I joined the GENUKI cooperative, occupied with a similar set of activities, and eventually becoming a Trustee. However I began to feel a similar weight of responsibility towards the “collective”, and felt the need to branch out on my own once more, so on 6th July 2011 I resigned from GENUKI - ironically, almost 12 years to the day after closing the BBS. Now, I am just an ordinary family history researcher, who happens to have a website, providing information about matters with a personal interest for me. I am no longer the “one-stop” provider I was as a SysOp, nor a supplier of information of general interest, as I was for GENUKI.
During my time as a SysOp, I collected a lot in the way of Genealogical source material. Some of it I provided myself, some of it was very kindly provided by my users, and other material arrived by what was known as GSDS, the Genealogical Software Distribution System - the means we had set up for automatic distribution of copies of files to other interested SysOps.
Many of the files which originated on GSDS also made their way to Stephen Wood's excellent Genealogy Anonymous FTP site (ftp.cac.psu.edu). In addition, the bulk of the text-based ones formed the backbone of GENUKI when it was first set up in 1995, thanks to the good auspices of Brian Randell.
All the BBS in the UK who specialised in Genealogy have closed now, and at Wishful Thinking, the software which ran the BBS has been dismantled, and the PC it ran on found a good home.
Wishful Thinking was named in memory of my pedigree Springer Spaniel, now resident in that Great Kennel in the sky where all good dogs go...