The Matrix

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The Matrix (stylized as The MATRIX) was Birmingham's largest computer bulletin board system, run by Rocky Rawlins and Tom Egan, initially as a hobby project.

Originally unnamed, the BBS started as "a bare motherboard sitting on a magazine with a 10 meg drive and a 300 baud modem attached" running custom-written software (Rawlins, 2006). As people discovered the number and began calling and leaving messages, Rawlins expanded the system and named it Birmingham BBS. Eventually the system was converted to use PCBoard software after it was commercially released.

Rawlins later started a second BBS which he named America On-Line because the BBS had users from across the country. Rawlins and Egan had the foresight to register the name as a trademark. The system allowed free public access for up to 30 minutes per day, enticing enough paying subscribers to make the operation pay for itself. In 1988, the Birmingham BBS number and computer were changed to become another node of America On-Line.

America On-Line had expanded to five phone lines when Rawlins got a call in 1989 from Quantum Computer Services in Virginia, which was developing a commercial online system. The company wanted to buy the rights to the America On-Line name and offered payment plus stock. Given the volatility in the online market at the time, Rawlins opted for a purely monetary settlement, selling the name for $10,000–15,000. He then invested that money in the BBS by using it to expand and upgrade it. A poll was held among users to give the system a new name, with The Matrix being the winner. The BBS changed its name in November 1989. At its peak in the early '90s, Rawlins had 30 phone lines coming into his house to support the BBS. He later transitioned it to a website, www.the-matrix.com, until it was decommissioned in 1999.

For a short period of time, The Matrix had an office in a commercial building on 10th Avenue South in between 19th & 20th Streets.

References