These are an invaluable resource – say you’ve been looking for a game for months and can’t find it anywhere, even if you have no idea where to look next, there will always be someone out there who will. Let’s skip the preamble for a change and jump straight in at the deep end shall we – don’t worry, I’ll supply the arm bands! Having found a board which you like the look of, click on the ‘register’ link. Now choose an alias, make a polite request and wait for a reply; you will discover that more often than not, people will do their best to help you. Even if you aren’t looking for anything specific, bulletin boards are great places to help you keep up to date with scene news and gossip, find out about new web sites or just meet and talk to like-minded people.

You will find that many bulletin boards are attached to particular web sites and so share the same name, the Kopy Katz board for example, while others are ‘stand-alone’ such as The Kinetik. These boards will fall into one of two categories; they will either be hosted on a private or rented server and will be maintained by the owner, or they will be remotely hosted and managed by a third party company. A further factor which differentiates bulletin boards is the scripting language used to produce them, the most familiar flavours being PHP, CGI or ASP (refer to the “how to create your own bulletin board” tutorial for further details). The busiest and longest established boards tend to use the Ultimate Bulletin Board or vBulletin script, which features on many commercial web sites and would be quite expensive if you were to purchase them legitimately. The advantage with using UBB or vBulletin is that they can be run from your own server allowing you to have complete control over them, yet another attraction is that they are literally brimming with gadgets and gizmos which can’t be found in the majority of remotely hosted boards. Any features which are not implemented by default can be ‘hacked’ into the board manually using nothing more sophisticated than Notepad or an equivalent text editor. These ‘hacks’ can be added or removed at any time to enhance the board’s functionality, tighten up security or just improve its appearance. As both of these scripts are available for free (if you know where to look) anyone can set up their own board. The main reason people choose not to do so is because it is so difficult to find the right kind of free, reliable hosting with ample server space. Although, another stumbling block, which tends to put people off setting up a do-it-yourself bulletin board is that initially the installation procedure can appear quite a daunting prospect – although, in actual fact if you can read a text file and follow a set of instructions you’re well on your way to setting up your very own board.

This drawback leads me quite nicely onto explaining the second category of bulletin boards, those which are remotely hosted and managed by a third party organisation, the most common one being EzBoard Inc. The name derives from the fact that they are very straight forward to set up and configure. Anyone can run their own EzBoard by simply going along to www.ezboard.com and filling in a few forms. The difference between a remotely hosted board such as EzBoard and a DIY board is that the former category of boards are maintained by someone else, the clear advantage being that you can avoid all the frustration and expense of searching for a web host. Another significant plus of opting for a remotely hosted solution is that they are legitimately free since they are paid for with advertising banners. Therefore if you are concerned about getting into trouble with the law or your ISP this is the perfect way to run your own board while maintaining your peace of mind; of course there’s also the warm, fuzzy glow you get from “doing the right thing”, yada, yada, yada. EzBoards are completely customisable and therefore can be configured to suit your personal preferences, and as they are constantly being updated and improved, many people now believe they are just as functional as the more complicated, DIY board scripts. Although, by using an EzBoard, or any other remotely hosted board for that matter, you avoid all the maintenance hassles which go hand in hand with the former variety of boards you do have the added worry that the company hosting it could pull the plug at any time, especially if you are found to be violating their terms and agreements contract.

No matter which type of board you are using, a very useful feature which is often overlooked is the humble search button. Many people just jump straight in with both feet and make a request without searching through the previous posts first. More than likely someone else will be looking for the same game or application, or will be having the same problem getting a particular game to run, so before posting, click on the search button and type in a few keywords which are relevant to your question or request. If you are looking for a direct link to a game or application, it is often more productive to limit your search to messages that were posted within the last ten days or so. This will improve your chances of finding a link that is still active. On the other hand, if it is just information you require, you should search the whole back catalogue of posts for best results. The search function is also useful if you yourself have made many posts and have lost track of which forums you have posted in and which people you have replied to. In this case, instead of searching for keywords you would conduct a search using your own username. This is effective as long as you remember to type your alias into the ‘search by username’ box rather than the ‘search words’ box, a very common mistake which will return very few hits. While we’re on the subject of keeping up to date with other people’s replies to your posts, another good tip is to enable the email notification feature whenever you make a new post. That way whenever someone replies to one of your messages you will receive an email to say “what’s-his-name replied to the following topic and you can read it by clicking on this link”. To use this feature just make sure that you tick the ’email notification’ box whenever you initiate a new discussion or contribute to an ongoing discussion.

If you have already visited a few bulletin boards you may have come across several icons, which look like little faces. These are known as ‘smilies’ and are simple keyboard characters used to convey emotions such as a smile or a frown. Providing you are using a board which supports these smilie faces, all you have to do to produce them is type a two, three or four character code (without spaces) into your post. These are then automatically converted into the relevant graphical representation. Five basic smilies are supported by almost all modern bulletin boards and are as follows (they make much more sense if you tilt your head to the left!):

🙂 = a smile

🙁 = a frown/unhappy

😮 = embarrassment

😀 = a big grin

😉 = a wink
For a more comprehensive list of smilies which are supported by most bulletin board systems have a look at Crack’s Smilies.

However, there are many more that you might want to familiarise yourself with. Even if these aren’t automatically converted into an icon most people will know what you mean. The use of smilies isn’t just restricted to bulletin boards. They can appear anywhere where it is possible to post information for others to see, including web sites, chat rooms, mailing lists and email. If these are used in email, for example, none of the codes will be converted to icons so you should quickly be able learn what each symbol represents and use them without thinking about it. A few of the less obvious examples include:

:-/ = perplexed
:-* = oops
😡 = a kiss %-/ = hung over
😎 = excited
;-( = grumpy :[email protected] = a scream
:-0 = shock
;-} = a leer $-) = yuppie
7:-) = baseball cap
:-& – tongue-tied
Bulletin boards (and the net in general) are home to a hotbed of abbreviations so it also helps if you can recognise what these shorthand expressions mean whenever they crop up. Here are some of the most commonly used examples:

BTW = By the way
ROTFL = Rolling on the floor laughing
LOL = Laugh out loud
FWIW = For what it’s worth
CYA = See ya around
IMHO = In my humble opinion
SGAL = Sheesh, get a life
CUL8R = See you later
IANAL = I’m not a lawyer, but…
SOHF = Sense of humour failure
TTTT = To tell the truth
HTH = Hope this helps
PTMM = Please tell me more
YIU = Yes, I understand
BFN = Bye for now
WTF = What the f*#k?
LMAO = Laughing my ass off
ROFLMAO = Rolling on the floor laughing my ass off
JK = Just kidding
DL = Download
UL = Upload
RTFM = Read the f*#king manual
TIA – Thanks in advance
IC = I see
FYI = For your information
THX = ThanksL8R = See you later
TTFN = Ta ta for now
TTYL = Talk to you later
PLZ = Please
REQ = Request
UIN = Universal identification number (or ICQ number)
NFO = Information
L/P = Login/password
M8 = Mate
AAMOF = As a matter of fact
AFAIK = As far as I know
AFAIC = As far as I’m concerned
AFAICT = As far as I can tell
ASAP = As soon as possible
CWOT = Complete waste of time
TOS = Terms of service
WYSIWYG = What you see is what you get
OMG = Oh my god
As a board grows in popularity it becomes necessary to give a certain few, carefully selected people ‘moderator’ status. A moderator is like a policeman/woman who patrols the board making sure everything runs as smoothly as possible (the difference is they try not to let the power go to their heads and turn into jumped-up little Hitlers). They are usually assigned control over one particular themed forum in which they have the most knowledge, but often you will see the same ‘mods’ watching over multiple forums, and these are known as super mods. They have the power to edit, delete, censor or prune any posts in their forums, although their main purpose is just to be there to keep posts spam free and friendly, and also to be as helpful as possible by answering any questions the board members may have. If you’re not sure who the moderator of a particular forum is, look out for a user who has accumulated hundreds or even thousands of posts and has lots of flashing stars or other distinctive paraphernalia under his/her name. In any case, the words ‘moderator’ will usually appear under their username, which makes things much simpler doesn’t it. If you’re interested in becoming a moderator, the best route to take is to get yourself well established on a board by making a lot of helpful posts. In addition, it’s also useful if you have a lot of technical knowledge. If you want to fast track your way up the status hierarchy, another good method is to learn how to scan for anonymous access FTPs, build pubs and then post them in the FXP forums of the board you would like to moderate. This is always a surefire way of getting yourself noticed for the right reasons.

One of the privileges of becoming a moderator is that you have access to private forums containing otherwise undisclosed FTP sites (more commonly known as pubs), an invaluable source of free software. Because these sites aren’t posted publicly their survival rate is much better than the pubs you would find in open access forums. If you want access to these forums, you don’t necessarily have to have attained moderator status, however. The usual rules apply – be as helpful as humanly possible and you will be rewarded …even if it takes many months. Sometimes you will be required to make a certain amount of posts before being granted access, and on other occasions your name may have to be put forward by someone who already has access. This isn’t just elitist snobbery for the sake of it, it’s a safeguard to ensure that deleters do not infiltrate private forums and wipe out hours of hard work.

A few other things worth a mention include cookies, the disappearance of posts and the use of html code/javascript. Firstly, cookies, the non-edible kind that is, are tiny files (usually less than 1kb), which are created by scripts embedded in the web sites you visit. Cookies are stored in their own little niche within your Windows folder and are used to remember information such as the last time you logged in, your username and password, and any personal settings you may have set from within the ‘preferences’ menu. In the past, cookies have been given a bad reputation because they can supposedly allow other users to gain access to your private accounts using your login details, but this is a myth. Cookies can only be deciphered by the web site from which they originated, and not by just opening them in a text editor such as Notepad. Another fallacy is that cookies can transit viruses. Again, this is nonsense so don’t let it concern you. Cookies are simply there to enhance the speed and efficiency of your web browsing, not to monitor your movements or steal your username and password, so keep on using them, don’t worry and be happy as Bob Marley or some other optimistic reggae type dude once said.

Second on the hit list; the removal of posts. You may make a post one day, only to find that when you return the following day that it has mysteriously disappeared. Unless you have broken the rules of the board, have been endlessly flaming someone for no apparent reason or have posted something that is completely outrageous, your post is unlikely to have been deleted. More often than not, it will have been moved to a more relevant forum where the discussion has been allowed to continue. This brings me to one of the most basic rules of bulletin boards – post in the correct forum. This is just as much for your sake as to keep the board tidy and easy to navigate. For instance, if you post a question about web design in the games request forum you are unlikely to get a great response because anyone who has knowledge of web design is more likely to visit the web design forum, and as a result will miss your post entirely. This is one of the quickest ways to annoy the moderators so make sure you think before posting.

Third and last, html code and javascript. On some boards you will be able to insert html code or javascript into your posts. If you’re familiar with web design, this will enable you to add pictures, special effects and sounds to your posts, as well as allowing you to alter your text aesthetically. Many boards disable this feature, quite frankly because it’s annoying, it slows down the board and uses excessive bandwidth, but also because it poses a security risk when in the wrong hands. If you’re not sure if you’re allowed to post html code etc, look out for a line similar to “html code is off/on” next to the message dialogue box whenever you make a post. If you have visited a web design forum where html code/javascript is enabled you will be aware of the problems this causes when you want to exchange scripts or code snippets. Under these circumstances anyone viewing your post will see the effects of your html code/javascript rather than the code itself. One possible solution to this problem would be to open up your paint program, type out the html code you wish to post, save it as a gif or jpg image and then post the picture instead of the actual code. Alternatively you could offer to email the code to anyone who is interested. Luckily this isn’t often a problem since most sensible bulletin board administrators disable this feature, with the result that any code posted appears as plain text.

If you are hoping to become an integral part of a bulletin board community, it is imperative that you read any guidelines layed down by the administrator. Aside from a handful of unwritten rules of conduct, such as being friendly and polite, and not SHOUTING in your posts etc, these guidelines can be as diverse as the internet in general so don’t assume that because you’ve been round the block a few times, you know it all. Some bulletin boards, for legal reasons, will be ‘no warez zones’ while others will be warez-friendly, so it’s a good idea to find out which category the board you wish to participate in falls into before posting.

It can be quite a chore seeking out these boards, which is why I’ve rounded up the best ones and listed them in the bulletin board/FXP section of my links page. However, if none of these appeal to you, you can visit the EzBoard home page or pop along to Google and carry out your own search. A final point to note is that bulletin boards cover a much wider range of topics than computer software alone, so whatever you’re interested in, it is quite likely that there will be a bulletin board out there to cater for it.