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"BBS" is an acronym for the words "Bulletin Board System". A BBS is a computer system dedicated to running a program that lets you call into that computer and perform various tasks, such as read and reply to messages, download files, or play games. There are hundreds of BBSs; some may be only a local call from your home, others may be a world away but easily reachable by telnet. Bulletin Board Systems work very much like the regular cork board variety, but can provide so much more.

Typically, on a BBS you can:

Download Files
Many BBSs keep a large number of programs and files you can download. You've seen "shareware" files on the internet; similarly, the files you'll find on a BBS will be "shareware" or "freeware." In addition, BBS's often have files that are not readily obtainable on the internet.

Play Games
A wide variety of online games are available and will vary depending on the BBS you call. They include role-playing games, trivia, word games, intergalactic battles, and much more.

Read and Post Messages
Most BBSs let you read messages left by other callers in common areas known as "conferences". On the internet, you know them as "usenet newsgroups." A significant difference between conferences and newsgroups is that messages can be addressed personally to another person in the conference rather than to "all", thus enabling you to carry on a public two-way conversation with another party who shares your interests. Further, BBS's allow you to select all the mail in a given conference, mail addressed to you only, or other combinations thereof.

A BBS may carry "local" or "echoed" conferences. Messages in a "local" conference can be read by just the users who call that one BBS. Messages in an "echoed" conference can be read by callers on other BBS's around the world, just as newsgroups are "echoed." Some BBS's may only have one or two conferences, others may be members of "echomail networks" and have thousands of conferences on a variety of topics.