In the 90s, if a continent-spanning national government wanted to communicate via a bulletin board system, they needed to code it themselves. And if they were going to invent the wheel, what language was better suited to the task than Visual Basic 2.0? Slap a pithy name on it- Chessboard and voila- instant success.

Daniel was the pawn tasked with protecting this particular king. In order to reduce network load, each site had their own copy of Chessboard, with their own security rules for access. Each had its own data-store, but users could browse to other sites, making it a truly “national” application. Most of the support issues were confusion caused by the neo-brutalist UI model used by Chessboard. To support the needlessly complex access rules, roughly 70% of the screens were dedicated to managing users in some way. There were at least twelve ways to ban a user from a given board, but no way to unban them.

Developed before anyone installed a Jet Engine into Visual Basic , the “database” was a collection of text files heaped in a network share. The file structure actually made sense, which meant Daniel could do all of his support work in Notepad.

These text files lived on a world-writeable network share. No matter what security the application contained, anyone else with a copy of Notepad could have their way with the underlying data. No one truly abused it, at least not until the Bishops and Rooks in upper management started talking about “outsourcing”. A few unruly pawns promoted themselves and started posting profane messages where the Prime Minister confessed a deep and abiding love for farm animals, complete with ASCII art illustrations.

That was the end of Chessboard. Daniel didn’t mind leaving it behind, aside from one issue. The video-game sub-forum had been a relatively active community, and constituted most of Daniel’s social interaction at work. He wasn’t quite willing to let that go, so he didn’t.

Daniel grabbed a spare box, installed Apache, and some primitive forum software. As a lark, he called it “Checkerboard” and sent the link out to a few friends. They in turn passed it onto a few more friends. Within a few weeks, the community was thriving and enjoying all sorts of new features, like threaded replies, image uploads, and the ability to edit posts.

Time passed. Quake threads gave way to Quake II threads. Ultima Online discussions withered while Everquest snaked its vines into everything. And one day, a lowly middle-manager spotted one of her employees posting to it. “Oh, is that finally the replacement for Chessboard?” she asked.

The employee, stunned out of a long and thoughtful post about the superiority of X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter over X-Wing: Alliance, simply said, “Oh… um… yeah. It’s called Checkerboard.”

This middle-manager did what middle-managers did when they wanted access to an IT resource: she called the helpdesk and asked for access. They told her there was no such thing, she insisted there was, and her employees were using it.

Checkerboard did not officially exist, but people were using it? That smacked of “unauthorized software”, and the institution of government IT only knew one approach to dealing with unauthorized software: complete and utter panic. Crack teams of auditors went from office to office, looking for anything that didn’t belong on the government computer systems. Scores of floppies containing racy .jpgs were chucked in the bin before they finally figured out the server lived in Daniel’s office.

The server was confiscated, Daniel got a stern reprimand, and the matter was mostly forgotten. At least until a month later, when the IT manager announced the release of their new bulletin board, Checkerboard.

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