BBS: The Documentary

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BBS: The Documentary
BBS Documentary.jpg
DVD cover for BBS: The Documentary
Directed byJason Scott
Written byJason Scott
Produced byNicole Sparks
Edited byJason Scott
Release date
May 2005
Running time
4 hours 58 minutes

BBS: The Documentary (commonly referred to as BBS Documentary) is a 3-disc, 8-episode documentary about the subculture born from the creation of the bulletin board system (BBS) filmed by computer historian Jason Scott of[1][2]

Production work began in July 2001 and completed in December 2004. The finished product began shipping in May 2005.[3]

Although the documentary was released under the Creative Commons Attribute-ShareAlike 2.0 License[4] and later under 3.0,[5] meaning that anyone can legally download it for free, the author has made it known that the downloadable version is only a fraction of the available material and recommends that individuals purchase the documentary DVDs.


Disc 1:

  1. Baud: the beginnings of the first BBSes, featuring Ward Christensen and Randy Suess
  2. SysOps and Users: experiences from those who used and operated BBSes, including B.W. Behling from Ahoy! magazine

Disc 2:

  1. Make it Pay: the BBS industry of the 1980s and 90s featuring Philip L. Becker, founder of eSoft
  2. FidoNet: details the largest volunteer-run computer network in history
  3. Artscene: the history of the ANSI Art Scene which thrived in the BBS world

Disc 3:

  1. HPAC (Hacking Phreaking Anarchy Cracking): hear from the users of "underground" BBSes
  2. No Carrier: the end of the dial-up BBS and its integration into the Internet
  3. Compression: the story of the PKWARE/SEA legal battle of the late 1980s

Disc 3 also serves as a DVD-ROM which contains thousands of photographs from the 200 interviews recorded during the 4-year production of the film. All of the episodes are subtitled in English and include director's commentary tracks. The Artscene episode is the only one to include subtitles translated into Russian. All discs include hidden easter eggs.


BBS: The Documentary was well reviewed, mainly by publications within the technology space. Wired called it "a five-and-a-half-hour paean to the era when computers were named Stacy and Lisa, and tech loyalists fought bitter battles over the superiority of Ataris to Amigas".[2] Film Threat called it a "truly fascinating documentary about an increasingly obscure and obsolete technology".[6] Popular Mechanics called it a "labor of love" and said it was "the sort of thing that not everyone can digest, but is utterly fascinating to those that can".[3]

Since its release, the film has been cited by multiple academic works on the topic of computing history and internet culture.[7][8][9][10][11][12]


  1. ^ Sanchez, Julian (December 2005). "The Prehistory of Cyberspace". Reason. Vol. 37, no. 7. pp. 61–67. Retrieved April 3, 2023.
  2. ^ a b Zetter, Kim (June 8, 2005). "How Humble BBS Begat Wired World". Wired.
  3. ^ a b Wenz, John (June 12, 2015). "Weekend Watch: An Extensive History of Pre-Internet BBSes". Popular Mechanics.
  4. ^ "New BBS documentary released under Creative Commons". June 3, 2005. Retrieved August 10, 2009.
  5. ^ "BBS: The Documentary". 2005. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  6. ^ Dickey, Daulton (August 19, 2005). "BBS: The Documentary (DVD)". Film Threat. Archived from the original on February 6, 2006.
  7. ^ Schell, Bernadette Hlubik (2007). The Internet and Society: A Reference Handbook. ABC-Clio. pp. 277–9. ISBN 9781598840315.
  8. ^ Söderberg, Johan (2008). Hacking Capitalism: The Free and Open Source Software Movement. Routledge. p. 192. ISBN 9780415955430.
  9. ^ Kelty, Christopher M., ed. (2008). Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Duke University Press. p. 330. ISBN 9780822342649.
  10. ^ Wardrip-Fruin, Noah (2009). Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies. MIT Press. p. 39. ISBN 9780262013437.
  11. ^ Mandiberg, Michael, ed. (2012). The Social Media Reader. New York University Press. p. 117. ISBN 9780814764060.
  12. ^ Coleman, Gabriella (2013). Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking. Princeton University Press. p. 213. ISBN 9780691144610.

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