Byte in the Bulletin
Ruchi Sharma, Sunday Midday April 2, 1995

The new hype is all over the country. What was a plaything for a select crowd of richie rich whizkids, is now all the rage.

Live chats. Jokes. BSE news. Eating out. The latest in computer software. Education and research. Graphics Demo programs. All this, and more.

If you thought it is the fare on the latest TV channel, you're mistaken. The place we're talking about is a Bulletin Board Service - on computer.

The BBS is an electronic-board. It has many members who speak to each other through their PCs. This speech is electronic, wherein the info you type lands up on the screen of another PC.

The BBS, to put it simply, is a network of computer codes. While New Delhi has 15 of them, Bombay has just one - Live Wire!

And the man behind it is seems to live up to the name. Suchit Nanda, computer wizard, is the bossman of Online Services, which runs the BBS.

Says Nanda, "You know, I have travelled a lot. And I always had a passion for computers and took a keen interest in what was happening in the field.

"The BBS was something that came up as early as the 1970s in the US of A. And it has grown and developed ever since. In our country, though, the idea has picked up only in the last three or four years."

He found that the BBS, despite being an ideal bridge to the communication gap among people, did not exist in the commercial hub of the country. So Nanda decided to make a beginning.

Which was easy enough with his background in the field. His deep interest in computers began at the age of 12, he says, when he first became acquainted with one.

The idea of a BBS originated much later, though. While still in college, he got involved in fighting computer viruses. And along with his friend Harsh Javeri, who is a partner at the Microcomputer Users Club, he authored a book call War On Virus.

Nanda now freelances for a number of publications. He is also a computer consultant for some noted companies such as the Singhania group and Reliance.

But he devotes a large part of his life to Live Wire!, which has now become nearly a full time occupation with him.

"Not only is it good fun, it is also something that takes up most of my time. So, call it, premature retirement if you wish, but this is what my major occupation is right now," he laughs.

Nanda is the Systems Operator for Live Wire! a job at which he is assisted by his younger brother, Anish.

Live Wire! has all types of notices of general as well as specific interest put up. Its members can respond to the notices, put forth their queries, ask for solution to any number of problems, or just indulge in Banter.

Live Wire! has access to a large number of national as well as international BBSs. It is connected to FidoNet, the largest BBS network in the world. It has nodes (connections) spanning 35 countries worldwide.

Through FidoNet, Live Wire! users can send E-mail messages to over 30 million users on a large number of systems such as Internet, UUCP, Bitnet, MCI, AOL, Sprint etc.

Live Wire! has a group of partner nodes within the country as well - in Calcutta, Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad and Madras. The regional network they make up is called BharatNet.

This enables inter-city exchange of private messages, as well as topics of public interest. You could dabble in anything from international politics and law to the latest news on the music scene.

For the funsters there is multi-line chatting and programs. Live Wire! is currently the only BBS in India which offers multi-line support. Which means that about 12 to 15 users can connect to the BBS simultaneously.

This is the subscribers' favorite domain. The subscribers are an interesting bunch - there are people from varied backgrounds, belonging to various age groups who find common ground here.

There is 32-year-old Samar Gupta, who works with Trikaya Grey. He is hooked on to Live Wire!

"The best thing about Live Wire! is that the whole operation has become like a closely knit family now. Maybe it happened because the network is yet so small, unlike some of the ones I've seen in the US. But it is great fun anyway."

His sentiments are echoed by Bhavesh Karia, a budding businessman, who happened to join Live Wire! by sheer accident.

"I am heavily into the stock market, and a friend of mine told me about the regular and accurate follow-ups on the BSE that he used to get from Live Wire! So I joined up.

"I think it is the best thing I've ever done so far! I have made such a lot of friends in the past six months, and it has been fun.

"In fact, I found this place fantastic even for my hobbies. Like, I was always interested in photography, only I never had the time to follow it up. So one day, I just left a message on the BBS, asking anybody with a similar interest to get in touch.

"And the number of replies I got was overwhelming! All of those who were similarly inclined got together, and now, we have arranged a picnic, for just the `photographers' group which will be coming up sometime soon."

Anish Nanda, the co sysop at Live Wire! has an interesting story to tell about a friend he made overseas the same way.

"One day, I got a call on the BBS from a lady in Atlanta, Donna Galler. We had a very long conversation and she signed off, promising to keep in touch. Somehow, after that one conversation we didn't communicate again.

"Almost a year later, I went to Atlanta. And since I remembered her name, just on an impulse, I checked the directory and called up all the Gallers in it.

"Well, Donna happened to be one of them, and to my surprise, she actually remembered the conversation we had a year back. And, it so happened that she turned out to be one of the 10 best private investigators in Atlanta!

"I met her and her husband then, and we became good friends. Later, Donna came down to India and we met again. And we continue to remain good friends till date. We're constantly in touch through Live Wire!

This is yet another interesting feature of the subscribers at Live Wire! They make an effort to keep in touch. They have regular get-togethers where all of them meet.

"They're fun," says Nisha Mehta, a 23-year-old creative artist who has been no line since a year and a half.

"The first one was quite sometime back. And it was such a terrific feeling to finally meet all the people I'd been constantly communicating with all this while,"

Never the `computer type', she says she got hooked after she attended the PC-Expo a couple of years back, through which she found out a lot about the BBS. And with her father urging her to take interest, it was easy enough.

"And, besides, I like chatting. So now it is like part of my life I can't do without."

Another member is Apu Kapadia, a student of computer engineering at Vivekanand College. He logged in at Live Wire! not only because he was interested in computers, but also he `wanted to have some fun', as he puts it.

"It is good fun talking to the `guys' through the night. I log on for an hour at-least everyday," he says.

One of the younger members is Madhusudan Ramesh who is now in class 10. He has made a lot of friends on-line as well.

His best friend is also someone who he met through the BBS. "His name is Vinit Aggarwal, and the first thing we discovered in common was our passion for computers. Then we met on my birthday party, which was also a Live Wire! bash." he says.

Vinit is the computer fanatic, who spends all his free time tinkering around with the think boxes. In fact, he assembles them.

The youngest subscriber to Live Wire! is all of ten years old!

So log in. And make friends all over the world. All it takes is a computer, a modem and a phone line. And of course a large bundle of the greenbacks to afford the paraphernalia.

Last update: Jan 1998