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External modems were available for these platforms but required the phone to be dialed using a conventional handset, making them unable to accept incoming calls without manual intervention.Internal modems could be software controlled to perform both outbound and inbound calls, but external modems had only the data pins to communicate with the host system.Examples of direct-connecting modems did exist, and these often allowed the host computer to send it commands to answer or hang up calls, but these were very expensive devices used by large banks and similar companies.With the introduction of microcomputers with expansion slots, like the S-100 bus machines and Apple II, it became possible for the modem to communicate instructions and data on separate lines.A bulletin board system or BBS is a computer server running software that allows users to connect to the system using a terminal program.Once logged in, the user can perform functions such as uploading and downloading software and data, reading news and bulletins, and exchanging messages with other users through email, public message boards, and sometimes via direct chatting.Low-cost, high-performance modems drove the use of online services and BBSes through the early 1990s.

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A precursor to the public bulletin board system was Community Memory, started in August 1973 in Berkeley, California.The poor quality of the original modem connecting the terminals to the mainframe prompted a user to invent the Pennywhistle modem, whose design was highly influential in the mid-1970s.Community Memory allowed the user to type messages into a computer terminal after inserting a coin, and offered a "pure" bulletin board experience with public messages only (no email or other features).One particularly influential example was PLATO, which had thousands of users by the late 1970s, many of whom used the messaging and chat room features of the system in the same way that would become common on BBSes.Early modems were generally very simple devices using acoustic couplers to handle telephone operation.

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