Steven K. Mariner
|Last Updated: 18-Sep-2008|
The first software to perform this task was written by the founder of FidoNet, Tom Jennings. This amazing piece of software was called Fido, and it grew from a network of a few friends into a worldwide network of over 14,000 BBSs in a matter of 10 years. I remember when I ran my FidoNet BBS and the nodelist (list of all BBSs participating in FidoNet) was about to exceed 2,000 nodes -- and the software hadn't been designed to handle that many! Only a few years later, FidoNet was getting ready to bust yet another hard-coded limit of 10,000, and it just kept on growing. The number of BBS packages a FidoNet sysop could choose from also grew immensely.
Probably the single most powerful cause of FidoNet's explosive growth and popularity was the introduction of EchoMail, a method whereby different discussion groups could be created, and all the users of FidoNet everywhere could join in group discussions on a given subject. This was the FidoNet equivalent of Internet's Newsgroups, and once users figured out they could access this technology for free, FidoNet was bound for glory.
With FidoNet becoming so very popular, there was a huge surge in the modem market, and the industry responded with a vengance. Whereas 300 baud modems were once considered the high speed modem of the day, and heaven forbid anyone could afford those brand new 1200 bps modems, once FidoNet became popular, everyone wanted more, and they wanted it immediately.
FidoNet still suffered one major downside: It was sluggish. No matter what else changed, the distributed star hub system which became a fundamental design element of FidoNet Echomail prevented it from seeing immediate turnaround and transmission of Echomail. Much was done over the years to improve its reliability, and its speed, but the very design and purpose of the FidoNet technology kept it from being able to guarantee any better than a three to five day delivery time.
This was still a godsend to the computer hobbyist. Except for those lucky enough to work at a place on arpanet or milnet, or the resulting merger known as the Internet, FidoNet was pretty much the only place to meet all those electronic people interested in grouped subjects.
As hobby modem speeds climbed to 2400, 9600, 14.4Kb and 28.8Kb, FidoNet continued to grow. But, as luck would have it, the amazing popularity of FidoNet eventually led to what is now the amazing popularity of the Internet. With modem speeds up where professional internet service companies could handle the load of delivering to the general public, there began a surge of attempting to make internet more usable by the average Joe.
Thus was born Mosaic, the first "Web Browser", and with it, the creation of an entity known all too well as The World Wide Web. WWW was a superstructure, laid over the Internet, which made the Internet usable by the average hobbyist. It was easier to use than FidoNet (once set up, that is); it was, by and large, more reliable than FidoNet; and it was a lot faster.
Will FidoNet die at the hands of the Internet it helped make popular? I don't think so. FidoNet is now shrinking, after some fourteen years of explosive and often troublesome growth. With those FidoNodes goes many of the users who made FidoNet so popular. But FidoNet still has two advantages over the Internet -- the clientele is, by and large, friendlier; and the person who wants to provide the service doesn't have to put nearly as much money into running a FidoNet BBS as they would to put up an ISP -- and an ISP has to stay up, whereas FidoNet can be more forgiving if the system crashes and it takes some time to repair.
For whatever reason, the kinds of flame wars and insolent individuals who seem to infest every corner of the Internet do not appear in as great a force on FidoNet. I suspect this is due to the fact that the true BBS hobby (as opposed to surfing the Web) is still more or less for a particular kind of person, and all these people will still tend to have a bit more in common with each other than those who access the Internet -- which is essentially everyone. And so, since it is friendlier, it is more pleasant to do certain types of group discussions on FidoNet.
Therefore, I don't think FidoNet is going away any time soon. It was amazingly popular and busy when there were "only" 2,000 nodes in the nodelist -- and it has to shrink a long way before it gets down to 2,000 again. I think FidoNet will be out there for quite awhile still. Its heyday, however, is probably over. It was great to be a part of it, as a sysop, during its growth, and I may yet be a Fidonet sysop again.
Here are some FidoNet links I find valuable:
© 1997-2008, Steven K. Mariner