Today we’re going travel in time back to circa 1993-1995. This, my friends, is when being online was pretty awesome. In 1992, for example, the Internet consisted of approximately 10 websites. That is not a misprint, TEN. People used the Internet, just not for web browsing. I’m pretty sure it was mostly 14yr old hackers, but of course there were professors and government entities online then as well. Things were horribly insecure. People used Pine for email, Lynx for a (text based) web browser, and Archie or Gopher and other archaic tools to search. The all powerful 14yr olds were “elite” (or less respected script kiddies) and could literally kick you offline with a Smurf Attack if they didn’t want you online.
The REAL fun though was not on the Internet, it was in the BBS world. What is a BBS you ask? It is a place where people could get online, message each other, pick on each other, write on walls, play corny games, and send email. This was happening in the late 80’s. And yes, we’re talking over 15 years before Facebook existed. Usually, 1 person at a time could use a BBS, since they were mostly run by computer enthusiasts. People would sit down at their computer, usually a PC or Commodore, or the occasional Amiga, Atari, or Apple, and use a program to use their telephone line to dial in to the BBS, establishing a horribly slow connection. (Uploading a selfie would probably take you 2 hours). Most stuff was text based back then, or ASCII art:
How did people find your BBS?
I was completely infatuated with and involved in the BBS world. I was 14 and writing programs in Visual Basic that were used worldwide. My BBS hosted a major network called VirtualNet for the Northeastern United States. But still, people didn’t come to your BBS just for giggles; there were a few specific reasons people visited a BBS over and over again:
- Network Games. Some BBSs would compete in leagues with text based games such as Barren Realms Elite).
- Online Chat. Some BBSs had 2 or 3 phone lines.
- Files. On some BBSs you could request files from other BBSs, and, they’d show up in a week. Other boards carried various types of files which attracted a certain crowd.
I also learned very early on that online users love to interact with other users.
I also learned that online users come to an online service over and over because it provides some sort of value to them.
My first Content Marketing
I was just a kid, I had no idea what I was doing. My BBS was extremely popular, and I was even one of the first providers of Internet email in NY, but probably what it was most famous for was its BBS list.
Any time my monthly BBS list was released, it was available on my BBS first.
I also printed this list on a dot matrix printer, and delivered it to the local library.
Eventually, almost every BBS in the area had the list available for download. At first, I distributed it, and eventually, other users distributed it for me.
You couldn’t just “go to Google” and search for other boards, so, the list became the Google of the BBS scene!
I found a partial copy of it today prompting me to write this article (doesn’t everyone have data on their PC from 21 years ago?):
Accidental Content Marketing
This is content marketing. Often, my best content marketing is on accident. I love to go crazy throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. I also love creating resources that show up in search that people link to. Often on client sites, I’ll post very helpful resources.
Once on an electronics retailer’s website, I put up a huge “how to recycle electronics” post. They did accept a handful of electronics for zero-landfill recycling. This resource covered every local municipal recycling center and what they did and did not accept, and also served up options for large quantities of e-waste. The result? People came in to the store with old electronics (and hey, look at that, the store had new electronics), also, local colleges and government websites linked to the article, giving the site a gigantic SEO boost.
The lessons I learned back then were invaluable. Later in life, I created my first business from the ground up by creating content that provided value, and now I create content professionally. To me, search hasn’t really changed that much; user experience and value are still what users want and what search engines intend on rewarding.