Rawlins started his first BBS with "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. Eventually the system was converted to use PCBoard software after it was commercially released and named America On-Line, which he trademarked.
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.
Rawlins, with the help of co-sysop Tom Egan and many others, including Rawlins' wife, Janet, continued to expand the Matrix. It was connected to the Internet around 1990 so that users could send and receive e-mail and participate in Usenet newsgroups. This required setting up a new server that could also serve web pages. This led to Rawlins and his team developing web sites for both commercial clients, who paid, and non-profits, which were done for free. The effort eventually became known as the Birmingham Web Project.
In 1991, Rawlins volunteered the Matrix as the new backbone of EZNet, a network for sharing discussions among local BBSes. Despite all the expansion, the Matrix was never a profit-making enterprise for Rawlins. He reported that for 1992, the BBS's "corporate tax return showed a $7000 net operating loss" (Rawlins, 1993). Rawlins had stated earlier that "the PRIMARY goal of the system is to provide a communications gateway for Birmingham. So that people don't need to be PC gurus to get on the Internet and out into the online world" (Maisel et al., 1992). At it's peak, the system had over 30 lines and just over 7900 users (Rawlins, 2006).
After WVTM-TV aired a story about children downloading pornographic images from a BBS and ignored feedback from the local BBS community in 1993, Rawlins led a large demonstration against the station on Valley Avenue. Rawlins subsequently created the American BBS Association in response to the situation.
As the Internet took off, BBS activity slowed and the Matrix finally closed in 1999. Rawlins left Birmingham in 2005 and amicably divorced his wife, Janet. While still working with computer networks in his day job, he is pursuing more non-technological interests in his free time.
- Mohney, Chris. (January 1989). "Profile on Rocky Rawlins." Birmingham Telecommunications News.
- Maisel, Mark. (January 1991). "Editorial." Birmingham Telecommunications News.
- Maisel, Mark, Rocky Rawlins, and Michael Davidson. (December 1992). "The BBS: Business or Hobby?." Birmingham Telecommunications News.
- Henson, Lurch. (June 1993). "How I Spent My Saturday." Birmingham Telecommunications News.
- Rawlins, Rocky. (December 1993). Untitled letter to the editor. Birmingham Telecommunications News.
- Rawlins, Rocky. (May 18, 2006). Personal communication.