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TextFiles is a website devoted to archiving and categorizing a wide range of digital documents and artifacts that pertain to the history of the BBS, including thousands of ASCII files, discussion threads and audio files among others.
The site Textfiles.com was created by Internet historian Jason Scott and went online in 1998. According to Scott’s statement, he launched the website to provide a more complete picture of the BBS culture in its heydays by sharing his personal collection of BBS archives.
I communicated with people who thought it was all a ridiculous joke, and others who thought they were refashioning the world, online, one message at a time. It would be foolish and, more importantly, a lie to say I saw and witnessed it all; I only saw a small part of everything that went on. But I think a lot of what I saw indicated what was happening all over the country, and later the world, and I want to share it with you.
In its beginning, the site mainly focused on archiving and curating BBS text files, but in the following decade, its scope of coverage was gradually expanded across other types of digitally transmitted artifacts. One of the oldest archives is the first decade (1923–1935) of Short Talk Bulletin, the monthly periodical of the Masonic Service Association.
The website was mentioned by Internet and tech news publications Slashdot and Wired Magazine in February and March 1999, respectively. According to the Wired Magazine article, Scott first began collecting textfiles at age of 11, using his father’s PC and a Hayes 300-baud modem. Scott has also spoken at dozens of internet and digital arts-related conventions and conferences, including Arse Elektronica, DEFCON and ROFLCON among others.
In 2001, Scott began working on a video documentary about dial-up Bulletin Board Systems titled BBS: The Documentary, which was released as a 5.5 hour mini-series on DVDs. In 2005, Scott began focusing on two more documentaries: GET LAMP, a documentary about text adventures and the creators behind them, and ARCADE, a documentary about places of coin-operated entertainment.
According to Wikipedia, the site reportedly had approximately 150,000 unique visitors per month as of 2004. An updated file count was last posted on July 1st, 2005; at that time, the number of files archived by the site was 58,227. Over the last decade, the site has been host to millions of visitors and more than a terabyte of data.
The text files in the archive cover a wide range of topics, including anarchy, art, computers, drugs, Freemasonry, games, hacking, phone phreaking, politics, piracy, sex and UFOs. It also houses a number of sub-projects with their own hostnames.
- artscene.textfiles.com has a repository of computer art including crack intros, ANSI and ASCII art and other related documents.
- audio.textfiles.com has an archive of audio files, including prank calls, recorded telephone conferences with BBS owners and hacker radio shows.
- cd.textfiles.com contains an archive of 1990s shareware discs.
- web.textfiles.com contains files created after the Internet went into mainstream use, approximately 1995.
- bbslist.textfiles.com aims to be a comprehensive list of all historical BBSes.
- timeline.textfiles.com is meant to list all important events in the history of BBSes.
- pdf.textfiles.com contains a selection of PDF documents, including pamphlets, zines, manuals, posters and letters of legal threats.
Textfiles.com has been a frequent target of legal complaints due to the questionable status of copyright regarding the materials that are hosted on the site. Scott has defended the storage of presumably copyrighted materials on the basis of Fair Use provisions, although this debate will likely continue for decades since most files in question originated in the United States, where copyright protection stays valid for the lifetime of the author and 70 years after his/her death.
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