Wednesday, September 05, 2018

BPN 1741: 40 Years ago Dutch consumers learned about online services

Forty years ago, on September 5, 1978, the long march of online public services in the Netherlands began. The public television 8 o’clock news introduced Dutch viewers to online services for the first time. From the exhibition floor of a consumer electronics fair the television reporter introduced the new digital media, showing  Ceefax-like teletext information, transported by television waves, and a Prestel-like demonstration of viewdata*/videotex**, an interactive system by the telephone. With this historical report of 3:36 minutes, Dutch consumers got a first glimpse of a future with digital media.

The technologies demonstrated used the television screen as a delivery station. Although there were already computers, so-called mainframes and mini-computers, these were used in science, in financial services and in administration departments. And the PC had just been developed, but hadn't really reached the Netherlands yet. The publicity preceding the consumer fair therefore generated television-focused headlines such as 'Extra opportunities coming on television' and 'Besides television for watching, there will also be text television'. 

And as with all new services and products, prophecies about the benefits of these new media were made before and during the fair. Services would be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (24/7), with information and teleshopping, banking transactions would be handled the same day and school lessons and university lectures would be available at home. The new services would bring about a change in the daily life pattern of the Netherlands, where at that time no bakery was open on Sunday and no Sunday paper was for sale. 

Start of the long march
After the consumer fair, the long march of digital media was started by the state-owned companies as the public broadcaster NOS and the telecom operator PTT. On 1 April 1980, the NOS introduced the Teletekst, moulded after the UK Ceefax service, but of course in the Dutch language. Teletekst was only available during TV transmission hours. On 7 August 1980, the then State Secretary for Transport, Public Works and Water Management, Mrs Neelie Smit-Kroes, launched the first public 24/7 online service, Viditel. It was the second operational videotext service using UK Prestel software in Europe.

The two services have run different courses. Teletekst has been very successful up to the millennium. As many countries like the UK and Belgium have abandoned the teletext services, Teletekst is still operational in the Netherlands. The PTT service Viditel was less successful and was operational till 1989, when it was replaced by its successor Videotex Netherlands. This service worked with a different organisation and has multiple delivery devices (television, PC and Minitel). The service got a wider usage and had. A milestone was reached in 1994 with 250.000 users and 3 million connected minutes. However, Videotex Netherlands was overwhelmed by Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) on PC and  the introduction of the Internet. Videotex Netherlands was officially closed on January 1, 1997. 

Consumers got a peek of internet with the launch of consumer services by XS4ALL on May 1, 1993. A real breakthrough came with the opening of The Digital City (De Digitale Stad, DDS) on January 15th 1994.This Amsterdam initiative drew much attention and subscribers to the service. After six weeks the service registered more than 10.000 users. DDS sparked commercial ISP competitor like Euronet*Internet, Planet Internet and World Online. Now after fourty years, the long march for online has reached the milestone of 98 percent of Dutch households online with internet via PC, telephone or tablet. 

*Viewdata was the generic term for interactive services with teletext-like screen presentation over the telephone, which was later replaced by videotex.
** For the demonstration, a link-up was made with the Waterloo computer of the British Post Office (BPO).

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

BPN 1740: Videotex: an e-phemeral medium

 Today marks the 38th anniversary of the launch of Dutch videotext service Viditel. This first, public, online information service, the first European follower of the UK service Prestel, was based on the videotex protocol. Looking back, Prestel was pass√© by 1994 with 90.000 subscribers at its height. The Dutch service Viditel had three successors and its successors and had eventually had a lifespan of 17 years. By 1994 both services were outnumbered by the Internet. Videotex was one of the first victims of the upcoming e-phemeral media trend.

The year 1980 was an important one for e-media in Holland. On April 1st, 1980, the television text service NOS Teletekst was introduced and grew into a resounding success. Teletext still reaches millions of people in the Netherlands today, as opposed to most services in European countries.

On August 7th, 1980, the Viditel trial was launched by Secretary of State Ms Neelie Kroes. It was the first public online service with 500 subscribers, 150 information providers and 150,000 pages. This videotex service, which ran via the telecom network, grew like the Echternacht procession with two steps back and three forwards, but never became a widely accepted service. 

It soon became clear that the aim had to be a large-scale service, but even the cable experiment South Limburg and the VNU Amsterdam project Ditzitel did not bring about this growth. 

By refocusing on the French kiosque model and its marketing approach, Videotex Netherlands allowed the users' market to grow in its third attempt to introduce videotex. But also this attempt did not lead to the projected market size of 500,000 consumers and 220,000 small business users. From 1994 on, videotex was gradually overshadowed by the Internet. On 1 January 1997 videotex definitely disappeared from the Dutch online scene.

(The illustrations are part of Collection Jak Boumans) 

See also
- video: (commentary in Dutch language)

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

BPN 1739: 25 years of consumer internet in the Netherlands

"On 1 May 1993, something remarkable happened. On that day, XS4ALL opened its server to the consumer. The management's objective was to acquire 500 customers in half a year. But at 7 o'clock in the evening, the 500th customer had already signed up. This success can largely be explained by the publication of the article "A continent that belongs to no one yet" by Francisco van Jole "(@2525) in the Volkskrant of the same day".

Besides (old) illustrations on the site of XS4ALL, there is also an old sound found. It is about the sound the handshake of a modem to the server of the IP. After the ringtone of DDS now also one of XS4ALL plus a happy birthday tune. 

 Text fragment: Toen digitale media nog nieuw waren - Pre-internet in de polder (1967-1997) - 

The following article is a translation of an article published by 

25 years of the internet for Dutch consumers

On 1 May I congratulated my grandsons. They looked up from their phone and asked what. Of course, the congratulations were not for Labour Day, because they are still at school. I congratulated them on 25 years of the internet for Dutch consumers. They shrugged their shoulders and continued with their smartphones. For me, it is still a matter of guessing whether they know what consumers are.
They know the term internet, but why celebrate an anniversary of something you use every day? Yes, they were still unborn when Dutch consumers were introduced to the phenomenon of the Internet (certainly, with a capital letter, because it was a new phenomenon at the time).

Illustration 1: The Volkskrant article of 1 May 1993

On May 1, 1993, I opened the Volkskrant and found an article with the headline 'A continent that belongs to no one yet' by Francisco van Jole. It was about the phenomenon of the Internet. According to language researcher Perry Feenstra, that word was only used 22 times in the national newspapers in that year.

Open to consumers
On the same day, the Internet organisation XS4ALL opened its service to consumers. It was anticipated that it would take between six months and a year for 500 subscribers to come forward. But the target was achieved that same evening. The article in de Volkskrant will undoubtedly have contributed to this. This made XS4ALL the first real internet organization to serve consumers as well as business customers.

The years prior to the launch of XS4ALL were confusing. In the Netherlands there was an online multi-flow country: there were ASCII, video and electronic messaging services and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). In academia, something as vague as the Internet played a role and, since 1990, the Web. New companies were formed around this new movement, which mainly focused on business customers or associations such as the Hobby Computer Club. In 1992, 292 companies were customers of an Internet service provider. NLnet gave consumers - mostly former students - access, but did not believe that there was a consumer market.

Illustration 2: A map of the Netherlands with internet services, academic and business (1992/1993)

XS4ALL did not do the same thing. There the founders believed in a consumer market. The founders knew each other from the magazine Hac-Tic, which dealt with hacking, free calls, operating systems and services such as Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). The founders of XS4ALL also made use of NEABBS (Dutch First General Bulletin Board System), a BBS based in Amsterdam.

In 1993, XS4ALL was founded by Rop Gonggrijp, Paul Jongsma, Felipe Rodriquez and Cor Bosman. In a short space of time, they were able to develop their internet service into a company. In early 1994, for example, XS4ALL worked with De Digitale Stad (The Digital City). In that year the company also worked together with VPRO, which became the first broadcaster to work with the internet; in view of their visual material, they needed fast telephone lines and found them at the telecom service of the Dutch Railways. In 1994, the service was incorporated into a foundation and, since 1996, into a private limited company.

Illustration 3: Advertising of XS4ALL

XS4ALL was also the first to face lawsuits. For example, in 1995, the Church of Scientology filed a lawsuit against the publisher Karin Spaink Karin, the Internet service XS4ALL, and a number of other service providers. Spaink is said to have published on the internet texts of Scientology on which the Church's copyright would rest; according to Spaink, they were merely extracts. XS4ALL successfully argued that it only passed on the material, not published it.


The great surprise was when the Dutch telecom operator KPN took over XS4ALL twenty years ago. It soon became clear that XS4ALL would remain an independent company and would not be integrated with Planet Internet, which had just survived an integration battle at the beginning of 1997 with the videotex service Videotex Netherlands, the Internet service WorldAccess and the messaging service Memocom. However, after the sale to KPN, activism remained a feature of XS4ALL. For example, XS4ALL has conducted a trial with Ziggo against the collecting society BREIN for blocking access to the Pirate Bay download site.

Meanwhile, XS4ALL is one of the better but more expensive internet providers in the Netherlands and the service is used by KPN as a vehicle to sell multiple service packages with fibre optic, landline, television and mobile.

Illustrations are part of the Collection Jak Boumans.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

BPN 1738: Escher interactive again

The Dutch public broadcasting company NTR is building a series of interactive gems. In 2016 it launched Jheronimus Bosch's interactive documentary The Garden of Earthly Delights on the occasion of the major Bosch exhibition in 's Hertogenbosch. Now the broadcaster has launched a new documentary entitled The Metamorphosis of Escher. Never before has Escher's work been viewed in such detail online; however, Escher's work has been interactively available on CD-ROM since 1996.

Web documentary 
The interactive documentary The metamorphosis of Escher, in which Metamorphosis II is central, enables website visitors to discover and experience Escher's work and follow his life from closely. The online visitor can make an art-historical tour through the documentary, listen to personal stories, and study the technique of Escher. Not only Metamorphosis II, but also ten other works such as Relativity, Reptiles and Verbum can be experienced in this way.

The interactive documentary was made in collaboration with the M.C. Escher Foundation, and has been launched in the same period as the start of the Escher exhibition in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden as part of Leeuwarden Cultural Capital festival. Visitors to the exhibition can also experience the interactive documentary via a digital table. The specially composed music of Paul M. van Brugge gives the interactive documentary an extra compelling atmosphere.

Visitors can also work on the site with their own piece of metamorphosis. Techniques that Escher has developed over the years have now been incorporated into the so-called 'Metamorphosis Machine'. You can rotate, mirror, shift, and then morphe to a second image. You then add your created work to the digital 'Gesamtkunstwerk' with other web visitors into an infinite online metamorphosis. You can also download, print and share your own work with others. 

CD-ROM documentary 
It is not the first time that an interactive documentary about Escher has been launched. In 1996 the silver disc Escher Interactive was released, discovering the art of the infinite presented in Dutch and English. The producer of the disc was Michael M. Chanowski , a TV producer turned creative ICT.

The CD-ROM program was available on a Multimedia MPC 2 with a minimum specification of Windows 3.1, 25MHz 4865X, 8MB RAM, 640 x 480 monitor x 256 colours (64K colours recommended) and 16bit audio. 

The CD-ROM received nice international reviews, although Harold Goldberg from the New York Times Book Review wondered: “Ultimately, this is a disk that doesn't quite know if it wants to be a game or a reference tool”. 

I myself wrote a column on the disc for the Dutch trade journal De Ingenieur (no. 15 - 25 September 1996): 
The CD-ROM Escher Interactive, discover the art of the infinite is an interesting interactive exploration through the legacy of Escher. The disk also provides much more information than any other book about Escher. The module about his life alone consists of photos, images, sound and video fragments. This module has become a document humaine, in which a person starts to get alive and in which it becomes clear what interests a person. The same applies to the module with the Gallery. The graphical works are presented here one by one, with or without biographical information or expert comments. Although these parts are interesting and have been done with a touch of style, a kind of tradition has developed in art CD-ROMs. The other modules make the disc outstanding: Plane distribution, Concave and Sphere, Animations, Concaves mirrors, Morphing, Magical images and Impossible puzzles. These modules make use of the computer's computing power. For example, you can create your own Escher-like drawings with an advanced drawing program in the plane distribution module. Interesting is the game Concave and Sphere, in which optical illusion is exploited as an element of play. The computer's computing power is also used for the animations. In this way one can see the Moebius strip, over which ants continue to run into infinity. In the concave mirrors module, you can view images as if you had a large drop of water on the screen and could move it with your mouse. The effect is alienating between the detail and the two-dimensional image. The Morphing module shows how figures of griffons gradually change into frogs. In addition, a user can enter his own design, made in the Plane distribution module, and have it changed into a real Escher figure. The Magic Images module is for lovers of three-dimensional images; it is not given to everyone to explore these depths. The Impossible Puzzles module is a real brain breaker. The note in the accompanying booklet, that all puzzles are soluble, indicates that one must have the necessary perseverance. 
The disc has style, is not a translation from print to electronic, but a truly interactive product. In short, superlatives for the product. That does not mean, however, that there are no minor beauty flaws and missed opportunities. At a maximum setting - translated as an acceptable speed - the CD-ROM requires 9Mb of disk space of external memory. The sound on the commentary disc is screeching. There is a missed opportunity in the Gallery module, where a loop could have been built in; if you do not touch the keyboard for some minutes, all images will be played back in historical order, with or without comments. Nevertheless, the disc remains a rare beautiful CD-ROM product. 

CD-ROM: Escher Interactive: Exploring the Art of the Infinite (Windows Edition) Multimedia CD, published by Simon & Schuster Interactive (1999); ISBN 978-1572600096 (Dutch version is part of the Collection Jak Boumans)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

BPN 1737: The one-button mobile

Both pictures © Ton Mooy/ 

An angel flew into my study recently. It looks like a regular angel with wings, but it is not. It is sporting a one button telephone and computer satchel and is fashionably dressed in a pantsuit. The angel is a miniature  of a statue standing on a 15 meter high pillar outside the gothic Saint John’s Cathedral in ‘s-Hertogenbosch (The Netherlands), built between the 14th and 16th century. The angel is overlooking a marketplace at the Southside of the Cathedral. The statue is one of a series of 14 angles carved during the restauration of  the gothic Saint John’s Cathedral. The modern angel was especially designed show that the prolonged restauration has been completed in modern times.

When the statue was unveiled in 2011, a tourists’ circus broke loose. Despite the one button for calls to heaven on the mobile, paid telephone numbers were published (see anecdote below). But also fridge magnets, pendants, mineral carved amulets and coarse miniatures were sold online and promoted on Twitter. However this wave passed by and artist Ton Mooy, who chiselled the statue of the mobile angel (auf Deutsch: handy Engel), has produced a miniature, resembling the statue.

To me the mobile angel embodies two eschatologies, two doctrines about the green grass on the other side. In the Christian religions angels are part of the end times, particularly of heaven. In ICT eschatology is the metaphor for the absolute best in devices and apps.

To the Christian eschatology I have been exposed for a quarter of my life. In fact, there was also a link with the Saint John’s Cathedral.  When I went to the minor seminary, a boarding school for boys who want to become Roman Catholic priests, we had one annual trip to the Cathedral. On the early morning  of the first Sunday in May, we went for a 30 kilometres walk from the neighbouring city of Tilburg to ‘s-Hertogenbosch. We attended mass and went back to the seminary by train. The pilgrimage was all part of the training, which included the church teachings about escatology such as heaven, angels, hell and devils as well as limbo and purgatory.

As life went on, I got a job in publishing, particularly in what first was called new media and as internet got introduced, has been coined digital media. We started out from mainframes to mini-computers, from desktop to notebooks, from personal digital assistants to smartphones and tablets. They all have a tax deductible cycle of three to five years, before the next, best thing has to acquired. So is the iPhone 10 the latest device to have as it is the next closest thing to heaven?

An angel sporting a one-button mobile and a computer satchel, may incorporate a glimpse of heaven for believers. For digital-media tifosi, it has not been heaven yet as no mobile manufacturer been able to disrupt  the industry with a one-button mobile. May be the speech assistants Siri and Alexa are showing the way? 

BTW. In a NYT article of  March 5, 2012 it is noted that “when Steve Jobs died, the phone rang endlessly. The angel told the callers: “Steve Jobs will soon arrive upstairs — perhaps I’ll get a new model!” 

For more information on Ton Mooy and the miniature, see: and The information is in the Dutch language, but the sites contain also visual information.

Monday, January 08, 2018


Monday, November 20, 2017

BPN 1736: Manifesto FREEZE! Save and preserve digital heritage

The project group The Digital City Revived consisting of of the Amsterdam Museum, Waag Society, University of Amsterdam and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision has presented its final results of: FREEZE! Save and preserve our digital heritage. The Digital City as a case study for web archaeology.
The final results of FREEZE! contain three parts:
• Do It Yourself Manual for Web Archaeology (Dutch language);
• Feasibility Study Presentation (Dutch language);
• FREEZE! A manifesto for safeguarding and preserving born-digital heritage.

Version 1 – November 2017

Finding ways to preserve born-digital heritage has become a matter of urgency and growing concern. Websites, games and interactive documentaries each bring specific challenges that need to be addressed. It takes three to tango: Ensuring that our digital lives and digital creativity are not lost to future generations requires a joint effort by the principal players: creators, heritage professionals and policy makers. This manifesto lays out the actions they need to take today to safeguard born-digital heritage.

Digital products are at risk of being lost from the moment they are created. Creators are therefore part of the preservation process - whether by writing code, editing digital content or by creating some other form of digital expression. We encourage creators as follows:
• Invest time to describe your work carefully, whatever platform you use to store and manage your work. Provide at least a minimal set of metadata (who, what, where, when). Always include versioning data and information about the rights status of the work.
• Document your work as copiously as possible. Documentation enables future users
to understand and reuse your work more easily. Describe the technical specifications of your work, for example the hardware and software used to create the work.
• If possible, assign open licenses (such as Creative Commons) to your work. This enables content to be reused. Reuse will help to ensure the longevity of your work.
• Where possible, use open-source software and open-source hardware. Your work will withstand the test of time better, since open means: independent of proprietary technology and vendor lock-in, and transparent availability of the source code and building blocks of your work.

Heritage Professionals.
Digital material presents several challenges for heritage professionals. For instance, the sheer amount of material created, dispersed among diverse platforms, hardware and domains makes selection a daunting task. There is little standardization of file formats and environments that supports these. Norms for describing and managing this complexity are inadequately developed. The tasks involved in collecting, preserving and making digital materials accessible fall into three categories. We encourage heritage professionals as follows:

• Identify vulnerable digital heritage in your area of activity and find out which forms of digital heritage your organisation develops, manages or intends to manage (in line with collection policy plans). Create a convergent digital landscape by harmonising collection policies with other institutions. To ensure success, avoid overlaps and gaps in the combined collections.
• Develop policies for acquiring and keeping born-digital material accessible sustainably. Use existing models, as described in the ‘DIY Handbook of Web Archaeology’.
• Obtain legal advice regarding storage and reuse. Act responsibly when using, managing and making personal data or information accessible.

• Where possible, cooperate with (fellow) institutions and industrial partners to find collective solutions. Choose robust –preferably open - technical infrastructures and operating systems.
• Assume that your current technology will need to be updated regularly. So prepare your exit strategy: can you move data from system A to system B easily?
• Use well-documented, open standards, e.g. for storage formats and exchange protocols. Non-dependence on suppliers ensures your archive material remains interchangeable in the future.
• Agree clear guidelines for delivery of acquired and transferred born-digital material: when, why and under what terms. Outline the rights and obligations before and after material is transferred. If accessibility is an objective, organise this when the acquisition is realised: lay down terms for accessing the collections.
• Ensure copious metadata records are kept of digital objects so that the context in which these were created is clear for future users. E.g. record the hardware and software environment in which objects function. Document data in the form of descriptions, photos, screenshots, screencasts, videos etc, and establish conservation procedures.
• Ensure collections can be used and reused, that digital objects can be found, accessed, interoperated, reused and stored in a sustainable manner. Use and reuse by a large group of users increases awareness of the importance and need for preservation.

Knowledge sharing
• Exploit the power of the community. Introduce your team to the original creators, inventors and users. Organise meetings to share expertise.
• Keep track of developments in amateur communities involved with digital works. Much can be learned from bottom-up initiatives by amateurs who keep older digital cultures alive.
• Invest in your co-workers’ increasing expertise and keep track of developments by following blogs, seminars and participating in domestic and international expert communities, such as NDE (Digital Heritage Network Netherlands) or iPRES.
• New born-digital products require new instruments and new research queries. To keep pace with rapid changes in technology, be prepared for new ways of working and new ways of cooperating.

Policy makers
You hold the key to creating a sustainable policy that ensures sustainable digital heritage. We encourage policy makers to do the following:
• Stimulate cross-domain collaboration and use of collaborative instruments. Value hands-on expertise. Encourage the experts who love tracking down bit rot, annotating ancient code and building emulators. Put them in a position to share their knowledge and obtain recognition for their contribution.
• Bring the need to develop sustainability policy and preservation policy to the attention of institutions.
• Stimulate the emergence and use of open and collective services to ensure that as many heritage institutions in the Netherlands as possible will be able to guarantee long-term access to the digital collections they manage. Encourage collaboration within the Digital Heritage Network, based on the National Strategy for Digital Heritage.
• Encourage copyright reform to facilitate the preservation, availability and reuse of born-digital heritage.

There are many ways to advance the aims outlined here. We are the steering committee of the DDS project, realised in 2016 and 2017 with support from Mondriaan Fund, National Coalition Digital Preservation, Digital Heritage Network, Prince Bernhard Culture Fund, Creative Industries Fund NL. We welcome your feedback regarding this version of our manifesto and are keen to learn about other activities designed to pursue these goals. We encourage others to join us to help further the overarching objective of preserving born-digital heritage.

Judikje Kiers Amsterdam Museum
Julia Noordegraaf University of Amsterdam
Johan Oomen Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision
Marleen Stikker Waag Society

More information:

This material is licensed under Creative-Commons-Licence BY 4.0 International: http://creativecommons. org/licenses/by/4.0/