A key innovation required for the BBS was the Hayes Smartmodem. Prior to the Smartmodem, modems were almost entirely manual in operation, having developed from acoustic couplers that used a traditional telephone for dialing and hanging up. Such systems were largely useless for BBS systems, because they could not disconnect after the call completed without the user physically hanging up the phone. The Smartmodem included a small microcontroller that listened for key words in the data, allowing it to pick up the phone, dial numbers, and hang up again, all without any operator intervention. The Smartmodem was not necessary for BBS use, other modems could be left in “answer mode”, but the Smartmodem made operation dramatically simpler on the user end by allowing the easy dialing of any number of BBS systems.
With the original 110 and 300 baud modems of the late 1970s, BBSes were particularly slow and file transfers were typically limited to text files (lists of BBS systems were a common example) and small software applications, typically terminal programs for accessing BBSes. Speed improved with the introduction of 1200 bit/s modems in the early 1980s, and this led to a substantial increase in popularity. The demand for complex ANSI and ASCII screens and larger file transfers taxed available channel capacity, which in turn propelled demand for faster modems. 1200 bit/s gave way to 2400 bit/s fairly rapidly, followed by a delay before 9600 bit/s models began to appear on the market. 9600 bit/s was not even established as a strong standard before V.32bis at 14.4 kbit/s took over in the early 1990s. Another delay followed due to a long V.34 standards process before 28.8 kbit/s was released, only to be quickly replaced by 33.6 kbit/s, and then 56 kbit/s.
Most of the information was displayed using ordinary ASCII text or ANSI art, though some BBSes experimented with higher resolution visual formats such as the innovative but obscure Remote Imaging Protocol. Many systems became quite sophisticated in graphic presentation, especially considering that the system was confined to ASCII codes. Several systems attempted to simulate the appearance of GUI displays which were just appearing as DOS add-ons or Apple systems. Probably the ultimate development of graphic presentations was the Dynamic page implementation of the University of Southern California BBS (USCBBS) by Susan Biddlecomb, which predated the implementation of the HTML Dynamic web page. A complete “Dynamic web page” implementation was accomplished using TBBS with a TDBS add-on presenting a complete menu system individually customized for each user.