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Katie Hamilton
Tribune Content Agency columnist, Home Improvement author and Website co-creator of DIYORNOT.COM and
Tribune Content Agency columnist, Home Improvement author and Website co-creator of DIYORNOT.COM and

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Social Media – the Step-child of the BBS

Back in the 1990s we ran a BBS (bulletin board system) and whenever we attended a BBS conferences were often asked “People pay you to learn how to fix their leaky toilet?” Our HouseNet BBS was about the cost of home improvements, a spinoff of our syndicated newspaper column Do It Yourself or Not. Along with content HouseNet featured message boards for subscribers - contractors and homeowners - to communicate with each other. When we gave contractors – electricians, plumbers, painters, carpenters - free membership, they agreed to answer questions of our homeowners perplexed by the choices and challenges of owning and maintaining a home. Sounds a lot like what we call social media today.

At that time a BBS was commonplace in the world of business when companies used a BBS to communicate with branch offices, to order parts and services, and initially by U.S. government agencies who developed the software. It didn’t take long before entrepreneurs recognized the value of creating an online community of special interest boards and charging users a monthly membership fee to participate. All they needed was a modem and phone line. These niche groups evolved into thousands of boards people paid to join. Not surprisingly, some of the most lucrative were those with illicit material like porn. Of course, at the slow speed a BBS operated there was no live content, just downloads, often very slow downloads.

Early software was not well protected so it was easy to copy making the focus of many boards commercial software to download. Another popular type of software was called shareware; great fully functional programs that authors hoped people would buy if they liked it. Following that the mass amount of pirated software available created the phenomenal growth of software how-to books that took over bookstore shelves. What good was the software without the instruction manual to use it?

The BBS conferences attracted 500-plus attendees - board creators, software producers and the tech pioneers of the digital revolution that made the exchange of information unlimited. The budding industry of simple ANSI and ASCII screens led to more processing power, but the leap to 56 kbit/s modems led to dial up Internet services forecasting the end of bulletin board systems. Before that many BBSs became the first ISP services (Internet Service Providers).

This explosive growth of the Personal computer and the BBS industry supported three magazines with news of software and developments. A behemoth Computer Shopper, an 800-page monthly tabloid with listings of thousands of special interest boards, soon became a doorstop replacement for the Yellow Pages.

Was the BBS the beginning of social media or was it the WELL, an early online community, or America Online? While many attribute the beginnings of social media to college boys rating their dates, I suggest the real genesis was the bulletin board system, which led to AOL where chat rooms encouraged users to talk to each other. In the mid-1990s HouseNet became AOL’s Home Improvement channel as part of their Greenhouse Program with other newbies to the online world like The Motley Fool and The Knot. was sold to a large publishing company but its humble beginnings in an extra bedroom – like many other bulletin board systems – evolved into a major content, commerce and communication site.

Does what we call “social media” today have its roots in a bulletin board system? I think so and I doubt the phenomena might have happened without the early coders and developers in the tech departments and communities of the U.S. government and universities and of course, the homegrown tech-heads looking for a challenge.

Katie Hamilton, columnist Tribune Content Agency Do It Yourself or Not

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Recently Gene and I were part of a group of 80 home improvement editors, writers and bloggers in Atlanta at a Home Depot press event. We visited the massive office complex and toured the Testing & Innovation Lab where their private brands are tested. We saw a Husky ratcheting tie-down, designed to secure loads to a truck or trailer, being put through a test. The tie-down is rated to hold a 500 lb load in place; so to assure it is up to the task they test its breaking strength in the lab. A machine stretches the tie-down until it breaks, which in this case, took over 1500 lbs, more than three times the rated load. In addition to product strength they test for consistent materials to assure the tool meets specifications. The type of plastic and metal used in the tool is tested with a device that does a spectrum analysis of the material.

Everything is tested, the strength of a fabric tool bag was filled with a load of weights weighing many time its rate capacity. All interesting stuff. We joked that the lab resembled the armament lab in an old James Bond movie. We heard the bang of belts snapping, and packages being crushed and dropped from all corners of the lab.

We took a walk through the HD Museum dating back to the late 1970s when Bernard Marcus, Arthur Blank and Pat Farrah, brought new meaning to the term "big box" . The story is that Marcus and Blank were fired in 1978 from Handy Dan’s Home Improvement Centers in California; the next year in 1979 they opened their first Home Depot in Atlanta. Today there are 2,200+ stores in three countries where the orange apron is their familiar icon.

Another day we attended the ProSpective Immersion Tool Event where tool manufacturers like Husky, Ryobi, Milwaukee, Rigid, Makita, Dremel and many more displayed new hand and power tools with hands on demos. Each tool group was in a space framed out in 2x4s where vendors told us about the latest innovations and new design features. We picked up tools, used them and caused quite a ruckus getting a feel for what the tools can do. This was not a quiet event with powerful drills, saws, sanders and grinders working out. And the smell of freshly cut lumber, sawdust and sanded wood added to the buzz creating a realistic workshop atmosphere.

We came away impressed that the Depot is more than a mega hardware store. Their behind-the-scene testing gives them the confidence to stand behind their products.
Katie Hamilton Tribune Content Agency columnist Do It Yourself Or Not

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New to the group here. I'm content editor for a niche site about the cost of home improvements  Hope to learn how to improve click rate.  Katie

I registered for NYC Ad Sense in Your City and didn't receive confirmation.  Anyone know how I can reach them to confirm? Thanks. Katie,
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