So it wasn't too long ago that there was no public Internet, and what is now known as the Internet was only available to the US Government and Universities - so what existed before WWW?
A Bulletin Board System, or BBS, is a computer system running software that allows users to dial into the system over a phone line (or Telnet) and, using a terminal program, perform functions such as downloading software and data, uploading data, reading news, and exchanging messages with other users (sound familiar??).
During its heyday from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, many BBSes were run as a hobby free of charge by the system operator (or "sysop"), while other BBSes charged their users a subscription fee for access, or were operated by a business as a means of supporting their customers. Why am I telling you this? Well this year marks the 20th! year of The Trashcan BBS, here in Christchurch, New Zealand - go here for a history lesson. It's interesting to see there are still a bunch hobbyists running them, and the old message networks like Fidonet are still alive and running!
If you want to have a look at real history, feel free to logon and have a look!