Following is the approach that the Pikes Peak Net took to change, ward off, slow down, warp, the decline of FidoNet in Colorado Springs. You might find our path entertaining. Hopefully it might even give you insight about how to combat the general malaise affecting FidoNet in your own local area.
Colorado Springs is a paragon of economic growth nestled in the shadow of Peaks Peak, one of Colorado's many 14,000 foot Rocky mountains. It is home to the Air Force Academy, three air force bases and one army base. High technology is in abundance here. From the ever-present defense contractors, to telecommunications and computer giants in the private sector with MCI, DEC, USANET and HP; Colorado Springs is known in some circles as Little Silicon Valley.
Since the early 1980s, FidoNet Net 128 (The Pikes Peak Net), has been an active partner in Colorado Springs' telecommunications and computing community. Boasting of more than 80 BBS'es at its peak in 1994-95 and just like the rest of FidoNet, we have been suffering from a general malaise and a drastic decline in the number of users that call our boards.
The commonly touted explanation for the decline in FidoNet callers has been that they were opting for the Internet over the FidoNet BBS community they used to call. While the attraction for the Internet is certainly one of the reasons for decline in callers, we also found that they do not have the software they need to call us.
In our surveys of local computer stores, we could not find a single terminal program that could be used to call an ANSI screen BBS. Plenty of web browsers and web construction software, but not a single terminal program. FidoNet is not being so much as abandoned for the World Wide Web, as our callers can not reach us. They do not have and will not be able to find the prerequisite software they need to call the old style FidoNet BBS.
The general lack of commercial terminal software is singularly important when you consider the number of computers that have been sold in the past three years with the point and click simplicity of Windows 95. It is this new generation of Windows 95 computer users that are not calling the old style BBSs. The software giants have effectively steered our callers away from us.
We began by identifying terminal software that would allow an ANSI screen terminal display, use an external dialing directory and be easily understood and used by this new Windows 95 generation.
What we were looking for was a shareware windows product that was point and click. What we found was a vastly improved upgrade to a terminal program originally included with Windows 95, HyperTerminal v.3.0. We asked Hilgraeve, the author of HyperTerminal v.3.0, if we could distribute their software as part of our terminal software package and received their blessing.
The beauty of HyperTerminal v.3.0 is you can place a dialing icon anyplace on a hard drive in a Windows 95/NT environment and invoke HyperTerminal by merely clicking on an .ht icon. We wrote an install program that places a .lnk icon on the Windows 95/NT desktop and installed our BBS dialing icons to a directory created by the install program.
Each of our sysops submitted a short readme file describing the theme of their BBS and they were placed with the dialing icons. The BBS readme files were reformatted as .doc files, so a click on the file would default to wordpad, Windows 95's built in text editor.
Now that we had the software in place, the next question was how to get that software into the hands of our potential point and click Windows 95 callers. Distribution of free proprietary software worked very well for AOL in the early 90s and it could work for us.
We setup a web site with our terminal software and put the archive on disk in the local public libraries. We then picked several computer-related locations in town to place disks and asked the proprietor if they would support FidoNet by providing display space. There are still a surprising number of people out there that remember what FidoNet and a BBS are.
I am sure at this point you are saying, DISKS? Don't they cost money? Where did a bunch of hobbyist, amateur sysops come up with money to buy a lot of disks? Well, four of our sysops came up with about 800 disks, another provided and designed the labels, others assisted with disk copying and still others dropped their ducats into a common pot to help out. It was a true group effort, coordinated in our sysop echo and at our monthly Net meetings.
Now to get the word out. Peak Computing, a weekly Computer magazine for Colorado, publishes a list of bulletin boards systems for the state. The senior editor of the magazine was extremely supportive and offered to place a full page ad advertising FidoNet, the availability of the software and where to find it. She said she'll run the ad until we ran out of disks.
The disks and labels cost about 26 cents a piece. The displays we put up were in most cases provided by the location sponsor. The library disks were placed in video cases donated by Blockbuster. They were going to thrown away anyway. Always think donation, you'll never know if you don't ask.
After a month our sponsors noted the public response to the net's software offering and have offered to fund the next round of disks. They are also suggesting additional ways they could distribute the disk. This time we are going to shoot for a run of a thousand.
Where is Pikes Peak Net going with this effort? The nay-sayers suggest that we are just flying in the face of change and all our efforts will be for naught. However, this generation of computer users deserves to have calling options other than the large online services and the Internet.
A hobbyist FidoNet BBS offers a sense of local online community. The large online services are huge, but have no community. A hobbyist FidoNet BBS is free. Neither the large services or the Internet are free by any stretch.
Maybe the Pikes Peak Net is flying in the face of change, but we're having fun trying. The net has more new callers and we're having an effect. There is still room for the small hobbyist BBS in today's high-charged computer world. We just need to give our callers the venue to call us and, if we have to, give them the software to do it.
If you are interested in applying our experiences to your local FidoNet area, or if you would like to share your own net's success stories; contact the Pikes Peak Net NC via netmail. If you would like to take a look at our terminal software archive, it is available at our web site or it can be FREQ'd as 128HYPE3.ZIP from 1/128/103.