Bulletin Board Service Coming of Age
Business India

Bridges are being built through computer networks in Bombay

In a high rise building tucked away in Powai, a suburb of Bombay, a personal computer plays a host to a motley bunch of people, from businessmen to atudents, film maker to stock broker, not only to pass messages but also access information on the latest stock prices, answer their queries relating to computer virus, software utilities, etc, and chit-chat in real time while online.

Live Wire! Bulletin Board Service from Online Services is the first public access online service of its kind in India. Simply put, BBS is the electronic equivalent of a notice board in it's reach(one can only pin up notices of general as well as specific interests and messages for specific people on a notice board) and impact.

In the US, where it all began this has changed the way people live. Over there, an estimated 25,000 BBS nodes are in operation with millions of users logging into the computers daily to exchange thoughts, share opinions, seek solutions, conference, conduct sales and play games with like minded people across the world. There are 50,000 such nodes operating all over the world.

The concept of the BBS first took shape in the early eighties, after the advent of the PC's. It grew out of a growing need to connect PC's and transfer data between them. However it took a good decade before BBS could come to India. The reason for this, according to Suchit Nanda, the person behind LWBBS, setup in January 1992, "was the high cost of the modem, lack of awareness of what a BBS is and it's potential, and of course, the lack of critical mass due to low peneteration of PC's". Despite allowing free access, just to educate the public on its benefits, he found new takers.

Since then, however with networking becoming a way of life in most offices and the increasing use of leased datacommunications lines, the idea of logging into a metwork has found favour with quite a few. Since it takes just a computer, a modem and telephone line to operate a BBS, there are quite a few operating in the country, though mainly in Bombay.

However, the popularity of a BBS depends on the kind of information that a subscriber or a user can avail of, the number of telephone line that doubles up as a voice, data and fax line. The E-mail facility is also limited to the indivisual network.

Apart from LWBBS in Bombay, other popular BBSs are the Bangalore based Constellation Information Exchange and Delhi's Executive Computer Training Centre Network. Unlike CiX and ECTCnet, LW!BBS offers its subscribers access to information from international electronic systems like Internet, CompuServe, MCI and AT&T

Increasing Usage

Yet, in two years, LWBBS has gathered only 75 paid subscribers and 335 users who may later become subscribers logging in everyday. CiX, which charges on usage basis, has about 332 users built up in four years. But the numbers are on the rise. And users range from students, who log into the BBS for sending and recieving messages and conferencing on subjects ranging from entertainment to computer software, to investors and brokers, who log into download the Bombay Stock Exchange's QE files on daily stock prices.

Says a Bombay stock broker "Earlier I had to pick up the data from the BSE between 5.30 and 6.30pm. Now, I can get the data even at midnight." For Kiran Sagarkar, the director of Reliable Software, which develops software for stockmarket analysis, the BBS has become a major time and cost relief. "Earlier we had to courier the daily stock prices to our customers. Now they can log into the BBS, download our file and plot charts."

For techbuffs like 19-year-old Varun Arora of St.Xavier's college, managing director Madhupati Singhania of Raymond's Synthetics, diamond merchant Sudhir Shah, and film maker Mansoor Khan of Jo Jita Wohi Sikandar fame, logging into the BBS has become a way of life. While they do not know who the other people are, freely sharing what they know is the bond that links them. It is this breed that led to the explosion of electronic networks in the US. Will the same happen here? Yes, if Nanda and his ilk have their way.