The forum was started in 1997 as bbs.mit.edu at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hence the "MIT" in its name. However, its history can be traced to two earlier forums: the Unknown BBS at Peking University, China from 1996-1997, followed by the Space BBS at Center for Space Science at Chinese Academy of Sciences. Unlike the two precursors which were located in China, the MIT forum is much less affected by Internet censorship in mainland China, and grew in popularity among Chinese students studying abroad.
In 2002, the Chinese government blocked access to the entire mit.edu domain. Some have speculated that the main reason was to prevent domestic users from accessing the uncensored political discussions on this forum. Eventually, due to the popularity of the forum and bandwidth limitations, the forum was moved from the mit.edu domain to its own permanent domain at mitbbs.com.
In 2004, to circumvent the block in place in China, a self-censored server was opened to facilitate access by users in China.
Currently there are about 300 topic groups. The website claims that it has hundreds of thousands of registered users, most of whom are Overseas Chinese, and 85% of their internet traffic is generated from within the US. The forum allows http and telnet access for public postings, private messaging, exclusive groups (clubs) and, most recently, blogging.
Charity on MIT BBS
Users of MIT BBS form a warm-hearted community, and they have been active in many charity activities. For example, they raised over $100, 000 for families in Wenchuan city, Sichuan province in China, who suffered from the catastrophic earthquake in May, 2008. Recently MIT BBS generously allow OCEF to open an official topic group, mitOCEF, to broadcast about OCEF's mission and activities, as well as fundraising. During the past year, mitOCEF has raised directly from MIT BBS users more than $30,000; while indirectly the number could be much higher.
The forum was started by a handful of volunteers. After moving out of mit.edu, it was run as non-profit supported by donations and limited advertising. Under the current administrator walklooktalk, the last two years saw accelerated commercialization, with more prominent space reserved for advertisers, as well as the creation of a spin-off website devoted to Personal advertisement. Meanwhile, the system underwent frequent upgrades, and large fraction of them caused downtime ranging from hours to days.
The administrators claim both increased advertising and upgrades are necessary to keep up with increased traffic and adding popular new features. However, some users dispute their necessity. The technical handling of the upgrades is also questioned.
Quality of Posts
The forum is dominated by young and bilingual (Chinese and English) users with at least a college degree. Close to half of them possess Postgraduate education. Certain popular boards (such as Family, Automobile, USNews, ChinaNews) are subject to frequent flame wars.