Monday, January 5, 2009

Meet Mike Focke

Mike Focke (pronounced foe-key) was the driving force behind "Focke's List," the de facto authority on Washington DC area online Bulletin Board Systems from 1987 through 1999. Browsing through old copies of the list will be a stroll down memory lane for anyone who was online back then.

- Darkside Research has a page dedicated to Focke's List, with nice looking color renditions of one month's version of the MD, VA and DC listings

- has lots of BBS lists for download, including some Focke lists (the file names star with "Dcbb..."

Mentions of Focke's List from around the web:

- The blog Occam's Razor, has a shout out for the list along with a lot of other nostalgic musings re BBSs - worth a read

- The Washington Post gave the list a mention in a piece in 1997 (about free email)

- As did the Washington City Paper (about an "underground" BBS)

- There is a tidbit on a forum on Something Awful ("what was your most significant 'BAD INFLUENCE' growing up?) (Answer: Focke's List, which apparently enabled many hours of fun and copyright violations)

and finally, a post on Slashdot from Mike Focke himself. An excerpt:

The unique aspect of my list was that it contained only phone numbers and data that were verified every month. Now remember many of these boards had one phone line so you had to wait in line to verify that the board was still operating. I could get 90% the first week of the month, 97% by the end of the second week, and then it was a struggle to get the last 3%. Sysops liked the list because it contained a short summary of what the focus of the board was so they weren't spending time verifying one time callers.

Just to focus on the DC area IBM boards, at the beginning there were perhaps 50 which over time grew to 750 that I could dial locally (and boy did I hear from the SysOp who was just outside my range, how I was discriminating by not listing him. Some even got one local-to-me number so they could be listed.). There was about a 5% drop out rate per month, even at the height. Mostly kiddie boards when mom and pop found out they couldn't use their phones. As the Internet became the new thing, boards started dying so that the drop over a year must have been 70%. It was quite sudden, you could hear the whoosh. At the end, there were perhaps 70 boards still up but no one was using them. I could verify them all in about 2 hours.

My kids got status in school for a while because their dad was the BBS list guy. All I got is a lot of lost sleep...

There is also a program that allows one to generate text or comma-delimited copies of the List using any criteria, that I found a couple months ago, but it is having issues... I will upload it when I get a working version.

Where is he now? Looks like Mr. Focke is now into Porsche sports cars.

Final note - One time I had my Amiga computer at my friend EMG's house (I believe for some reason I was loaning it to her father) and was scanning through the list, which had a big ASCII art "FOCKE'S LIST" across the top of the page, that was a little hard to read due to the blocky ASCII characters... EMG was bemusedly scandalized by what she thought was another short word beginning with "F"......)

1 comment:

Reynold Harbin said...

Thanks Mike for putting this list together, it helped me back in 1987 when I needed to find the correct dip switch settings for a used dot matrix printer I had purchased :)