Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fading files

On December 5th, 2014 I told the story about the first daily newsletter to go online in Europe in 1984. The newsletter was marketed by VNU on Telecom Gold for some years and then an aggregator incorporated the newsletter in its portfolio, most likely on the host Dialog (these days a ProQuest resource). This is all I know about the life of the electronic newsletter. I mailed Clive Snell, who designed the marketing for the newsletter, to inquire about the life cycle of IDB Online, but he could not help (see mail below). Checking on internet you cannot find any edition nor even a reference to a source on internet anymore. There is a good chance that all the editions have not been preserved or just faded out.

Hi Jak,
Good to hear from you. I think you know more about all this than I do.

I have been away from that world for some 20 years
so can't help with any of your queries at all.
Best wishes

Looking further in my archive, I hit upon another electronic newsletter I contributed to in the beginning of the eighties. The Online Chronicle was a fortnightly online newsletter, produced by Online Inc, publisher of the print magazines Online and Database, later acquired by Information Today. The newsletter was started by the editor of Online, Jean-Paul Emard and ran from 1981 till 1988. I contributed European news to it, some 300 articles.  These were loaded on one of the oldest online information services, Dialog as file 170. Dialog originated within the aerospace industry Lockheed, was acquired by the owner of Reuters, the Canadian publisher Thomson and later sold to ProQuest.  No files can be retrieved nor a mentioned source  on internet. The only content I have left of the articles is a list of bibliographic data such as date stamps and 308 headlines. Perhaps I might have some of the information on a floppy disc, but who can still read a floppy disc.

Why should have these files been preserved? This is usually one of the first questions. In my view these online publications pictured a developing information industry, in particular of Europe, before internet came onto the scene. IDB Online was a monitor for the computer industry in Europe and could give insight how companies came about and computing was promoted throughout Europe. And the Online Chronicle presented articles about the young European online information industry before the word internet came into fashion.

Sample list of 30 European News headlines of articles for the Online Chronicle (Dialog File 170)  from 1982 till 1988 by Jak Boumans on a Superbrain PC (see photograph above)

Jr   Titel

1988 Agricultiural Abstracts On CD-ROM
1988 Elsevier Buys TWO U.S. companies
1988 German CD-ROM With Economic Formule
1988 Dutch Magazine Titels On CD-ROM
1988 Book Review – Electronic Publishing, Looking for a Blueprint

1987 Kluwer Announces Merger With Wolters Samsom Group
1987 Hoppenstedt Shows CDROM With Dataware Software
1987 Elsevier Makes Public Bid For Legal Publisher Kluwer
1987 Jim Ducker Leaves One Pergamon Company For Another

1986 10th  International Online Informaton Meeting Held In London
1986 Search Aid & Publications (European) – Business Guide Minitel
1986 Pergamon-Infoline After The Take-Over Of Orbit 
1986 Changes at MEAD Data Central International
1986 Three Scenarios For European Information Industry

1985 Finsbury Data Adds New Database
1985 Belindis Keeps Going
1985 Datasolve To Launch New Database
1985 Belgian Host Euris Stops
1985 Television Channel Used For Business Data Transport
1985 G-Cam Launches French Language Daily Newspaper
1985 Eurolex Sold To Butterworth by Mead Data Central
1985 Finsbury Moves Into The Black Afther 5 Years
1985 Excerpta Medica Ups Prices
1985 CNOL Goes With Data-Star

1984 Prestel Security Breach
1984 French Online Market 1983: FFR 100M

1982 Elsevier-NDU To Start Europe Data
1982 Belgian Host Belindis To Enlarge Capacity
1982 IEPRC To Institute Fellowship

Friday, December 05, 2014

BPN 1697: 1984 first daily online newsletter in Europe

Today, it is 30 years since the first daily online newsletter in Europe was launched at the annual Online Information Meeting at the Novotel in Hammersmith, london (UK). It was the business newsletter IDB Online, a newsletter for the computer industry. Daily, corporate newsletters were already well known in the US, but not in Europe, let alone newsletters for consumers. I had the honor to launch the newsletter on behalf of VNU (London) Ltd., a computer trade publishing house.

IDB, Informatics Daily Bulletin, was an existing daily newsletter that was like a two-sided A4 on yellow paper. It brought daily messages from the computer and information industry. Most subscribers were located in Great Britain; further, there were subscribers in Europe and the US. These subscribers receive the newsletter via the Royal Mail.

The idea for a online newsletter arose from the postal strikes by Royal Mail. After a strike subscriptions were halted, especially from the US and Europe. Another form of distribution was discussed. Plans were presented for a daily online newsletter, but the management team had its doubts. VNU had just made its first investment in electronic publishing with the acquisition of the US company Disclosure. And in Europe VNU had just burned about 15 million guilders (7, 5 million euro) with the publishing laboratory VNU Database Publishing International. But with a grant of 60,000 ecus (similar value to the euro) from European Economic Community paved the way.

The daily service was closely studied by looking at US examples. One example was the fortnightly newsletter for the information industry, Online Chronicle, file 170 on the host (server nowadays) Dialog. But the plan got solid when the email service Telecom Gold, a subsidiary of British Telecom, got interested. This service was unique in 1982 because at that time, email services and database services were split up; but Westinghouse incorporated email and database services in one machine. In this wat the daily newsletter could be loaded on the database service, while the headlines of the items were sent to the mailbox of the subscriber.

In 1983, plans were developed and pilot was held in 1984. The editorial staff continued working as it had always done. The electronic newsletter was produced with a WordStar text processor. The distribution of the paper newsletter continued to be mailed out with the Royal Mail. The electronic version was produced in the morning after publication and was loaded on the machine Telecom Gold before 12 noon. From 1985, a copy was bumped to the US online service Newsnet, who had the same Westinghouse software.

It was the first encounter for VNU (London) Ltd. with an electronic product. The marketing was developed by Clive Snell, currently co-founder and commercial director of Mylearningworx ltd. The online newsletter ran for several years independently, but was later included in an aggregate file and marketed by a syndicator.

 Alan Burkitt-Gray said in a comment ...
The paper version of the Infomatics Daily Bulletin was founded - without the initial support of VNU management, but as an idea of his own - by Tim Palmer. I'm surprised you don't mention him. In 1983 I was editor of Infomatics magazine and Tim was editor of IDB, sitting opposite me. I left at the end of 1983 to move to a different sector. Tim, with others, went off with colleagues to set up another company. VNU had never been a wholehearted supporter of the IDB.

Friday, November 28, 2014

BPN 1696: EYA: an award plus a pressure cook incubator for starting social entrepreneurs

Last week I was in Graz (Austria), a nice neat town in Austria. It is a UN city of design and supports a number of creative events. Since 2011 the town has been the base for the European Youth Festival, during which the European Youth Award ceremony takes place. Yet the Festival is becoming more than just an award ceremony; it is a valuable pressure cook incubator for starting social entrepreneurs.

The European Youth Festival has already a long history. It started in 1998 as the Europrix for students, a multimedia competition for students en young entrepreneurs up to 30 years. The award consisted of a statuette and a weekend in Austria. During the weekend the students got lectures by gurus, presented their projects to the other winners and attended the award ceremony. Contacts were made and addresses exchanged.

Screenshot of the first cyborg worldwide, awarded the Europrix in 2004.

In the meantime instructors of the winning projects held an academic conference, presenting papers and discussing. From these meetings educational networks and projects were started resulting in summerschools and programs such as the European Master of Interactive Multimedia (EMIM) and the European Virtual Academy (EVA). Between universities in Finland, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Hungary, Italy and Romania also exchange programs for instructors were started.

The move to Graz brought more than the change of name. Of course there were gurus present and not just local ones. Internet pioneer Vincent Cerf passed by, accompanied by Bob Kahn. This year at the start of the festival, Paul Hughes blew the minds of the students and instructors with his challenging 10 Meters of Thinking. The students did present their projects as usual, but now for a large audience of Graz students studying business and multimedia. But there was more. A creative brain storm for a new project, a fish bowl session, a innovation camp, all methods in order to get the young entrepreneurs to think about their project. Their projects were commented on by a jury of instructors and established entrepreneurs. But what I like most was that the students groups from Graz, Tampere and Spain commented on the winning projects. Their own peers told the winners what they liked about the projects, but also gave the winners improvements along to be considered. So the outreach of the European Youth Award has been greater than ever.
By Friday night the festival reached its climax with the award ceremony, presented by Adam Montandon, in the Dom im Berg, a big hall in the belly of a rocky mountain.

Winning projects:
For a point of view on the EYA Festival by a winning team have a look at

The European Youth Award is part of the World Summit Award competitions. The EYA Festival was made possible by contributions of sponsors. The winning teams were sponsored by companies, which could also mentor a winning team. After the gala the preparations of EYA 2015 have immediately been started up by the organising bureau ICNM in Salzburg. So sponsorships and mentorships are available NOW.

If you cannot wait till next year you might take advantage of another opportunity at the World Summit Youth Award festival to be held in Sao Paolo in April 2015. Sponsorships are welcomed and for 1000 euro your company can be involved in mentoring a winning team and in the festival.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

BPN 1695: Internet of NEEDS

Last week I attended the European Youth Award Festival in Graz (Austria). Three intense days with a group of creative, ambitious and inspiring young men and women. Although the city of Graz looks like a conventional Austrian city, it offers room for inspiration as a UN city of design.

And it did happened again. One term hit me straight between the eyes and kept intriguing me from the beginning: the internet of needs. Wow, a real good theme for a conference. But what does it cover? It kept me busy, just like terms like Internet 2.0 (with a capital) and internet of things. So I went back into the historic terminology.

Internet was used as term first in 1974 by Vincent Cerf and Bob Kahn in document describing the transmission protocol TCP/IP. The protocol was rather revolutionary as it was not possible at that time to jump from one network to another. You had always to finish a session and start a new session for reaching a computer on another network. So internet was basically a technical term to describe the overarching network of networks.

Internet of documents
This technology got a real boost when the Brit Tim Berners Lee developed the internet of documents. Originally he designed a system to make internal documents accessible of the research institute CERN in Geneva, where he worked. Internally CERN used Standard Generalised Mark-up Language (SGML) for coding documents. Together with his Dutch colleague Eric van Herwijnen he designed a subset of SGML, for the coding of internetpages, better known as HyperText Mark-up Language (HTML). By combining HTML with the HyperText Transfer Protocol (http) it was possible to communicate between different web machines. From 1991 CERN worked on a system to make external documents accessible worldwide. On April 30, 1993 CERN released the software for external use. The World Wide Web was born. At first text documents were exchanged, between various servers. Graphic files, audio files and video files (in that order) followed.

The term World Wide Web eventually disappeared to the background, while the term Internet (with a capital as usually happens with new phenomena) remained en vogue. The term was followed by Internet 2.0. This conference term basically indicated a complex of software for internet. The term Internet 3.0 did not really fly as it did not have a real objective.

 Internet of Things
In the meantime the term Internet of things started to appear from 1999 onwards. Kevin Ashton, head of the MIT Auto-ID Center coined the term with the vision that all objects, including people would be provided with identifiers and could be managed with computers by exchange of data. In the present wired world IP addresses can be given to all things and even to people. The development of the internet of things is technically inspired with an objective to develop smart things such as smart cars, smart homes, smart health, smart economy and smart energy.

Internet of NEEDS
I heard the term the internet of needs last week for the first time. It was used as opposing to the internet of documents and the internet of things. While the internet of documents is traffic in one direction from sender to receiver and the internet of things will only refine this traffic in a smart way, the internet of needs was described as two-way traffic. Besides the internet of needs deals with the needs of users and uses software to cater for connecting people. With social media and mobile apps this aspect can be demonstrated.  Facebook and LinkedIn are examples of the social media. But from the group of social entrepreneurs we see interesting apps coming. The European Youth Award was a shining example of internet of needs with application in the categories Healthy Life, Connecting cultures, Go Green, Active Citizenship and Future Living. But also Vodafone Mobiles for Good challenge is a nice example, for exmple with its Into D'mentia app.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

BPN 1694: Amazon peddles Dutch language e-books (at) last

Today webgiant Amazon has discovered The Netherlands and has discovered that the Dutch speak and read in their own language. So Amazon Nederland has started to offer three million digital books in many languages in combination with 20.000 Dutch language e-books as well as its own Kindle e-readers. But what the hell is Amazon looking for in a country of 16,5 million people and a worldwide Dutch speaking population of 22 million people (Flanders in Belgium and Afrikaans in South Africa)?

Amazon has negotiated with the Dutch language publishers in the past month and have now reached an assortment of 20.000 e-books. This number of titles is mainly coming from major publishing houses. In fact, it is not yet 60 percent of the entire Dutch language offer of e-books. Publisher of the other 40 percent have been hesitant to sign agreements with Amazon, fearing that they hardly would recover costs and would eventually be pressured by Amazon for lower prices.

E-books sold by Amazon have a format which only can be read on its own Kindle machine. So, you have to buy a Kindle and can only return to Amazon to buy e-books. E-books bought elsewhere can be put on the Kindle. This means that Amazon shows monopolistic traces like Microsoft.

Will Amazon make it in the Netherlands? Amazon starts so far only with e-books. Orders for printed books in other languages than Dutch are still to be delivered through the subsidiaries in the UK and Germany. So the offer is not impressive.

Yet it is a start. Slowly Amazon will be able to penetrate the Dutch market for printed books and move from there to an online retail shop. This is the way followed by the Dutch online retail company They started out with printed books, CD media, e-books and moved into retail untill they were bought by the Dutch retail company Albert Heijn. But Amazon will have a problem of scale and culture moving to the retail market. The Dutch market is small and the culture is European and not American. And as the European market is fragmented due to various languages, it will be hard to offer a European product catalogue.

Why does Amazon move into the Dutch market. Not for the Dutch language e-books, but mainly to protect the market of foreign language e-books. Dutch language e-books might help the sale of Kindle e-readers and foreign language e-books.

The keyword here is might. The Dutch market has already a long tradition in e-books. In 1994 Sony attempted to introduce e-books (on mini-discs) with a few reference book publishers. That attempt failed. But by 1997 distribution over internet of e-books for Rocket and Softbook e-readers made a clear start, be it that the displays of these e-readers were still tiresome. When the iLiad e-reader made the e-Ink technology commercial in 2006, e-books became serious merchandise. E-books really took off from 2010 onwards with sales up to Q3 of 2014 of  7 million copies. Main distributors are online retailer which recently associated itself with Kobo (e-readers and world catalogue of e-books) and CB, a central and e-book distribution organisation, mainly working for bookshops, which are selling the Tolino e-reader (just like the German bookshops).

But there is more. Dutch readers are not used to closed formats. They have clamoured against one e-book-one e-reader. Now they can put their e-books on more than one devices. Besides most of the Dutch language e-books do not have a lock (Adobe DRM with only 1,8 pct), but have a watermark (97 pct).

The choice is now on the Dutch language readers. The major publishers have chosen for the extra money from the Dutch language e-books. The other publishers, who did not decide yet, have a choice of really befriending the Dutch language readers and so building up a longlasting relationship or choosing for Amazon.

Pursuing the remark of the CEO of, Daniel Rops: Amazon has come to the party as the last invitee; I would like to add: and brought along a present which cannot be opened and seen by everyone.

For Dutch market details have a look at the Dutch and English pdf infographic:

Thursday, November 06, 2014

BPN 1693: My first Skype lecture

Excitement yesterday. I was going to present my first lecture by Skype. Having used Skype for a long time, technically there should not be real surprises, but presenting a lecture is a different game, I guessed. And yes it was.

The idea to present by Skype was not at all surprising. Having been involved in European long distance learning projects like EMIM (European Masters of Interactive Multimedia), a remote presentation sounds logical. But EMIM and it successor EVA (European Virtual Academy) register lectures and make them available to the instructors and students. But presenting a live presentation was new to me.

So in the framework of the Iwooti2014 workshop at the University of Applied Sciences in Mittweida (Germany), I was asked to kick off a series of lectures. I had the freedom of selecting a subject of my liking, so I chose Archaeology of e-reading.  Why? I think that all students of digital media should follow a module on archaeology of digital media, as there are lessons to be learned from history.
E-Reading is such a subject. Of course e-books are well known these day and are used on e-readers and tablets. But few people know that e-books were started out in the seventies as text files (in ASCII and in capitals) on mainframes and mini-computers. And in that time Alan Kay worked on his mock-up of Dynabook, a slate with a screen, keyboard and stylus. Can you imagine, in a time that mainframes and mini-computers, for which thousands of dollars were paid, he thought up a mobile, user friendly and payable device.  And this mock-up has become the leading design for e-readers and tablets. If it had been possible to technically produce the Dynabook at that time, it would have been a destructive technology for computer giants like IBM and DEC.

It was unbelievable that I could stay at home and did not have to travel to Mittweida (with a train drivers strike coming up). I could stay in the intimacy of my study and lecture from there. This has advantages, but also disadvantages.

I had prepared a lecture with Power Point with many pictures in it. And in the morning a student from Mittweida contacted me. After solving some technical problems I could start the presentation. There was only a one time-out by the network. But I stayed within the time bracket assigned.

I did learn a few things from this experience:
a.      Have a technical try-out beforehand, preferably the day before the presentation.
b.      Ask the host to introduce you to the audience and the audience to you. In this way you see the people present, but you can also attempt to exchange salutations with people you know and with audience in general. Of course, it makes it also easier to solicit remarks and answer questions from the audience.
c.      Showing artefacts, like books or e-readers, live is a problem due to the limitations of the camera. I wanted to show my 1993 vintage Sony Bookman e-reader (see photograph) and the working of it, but I saw that this did not really work on the screen in Mittweida.
d.      Major problem was the prompting of the Power point sheets. Before the workshop presenters were asked to upload the Power Point on a local server. So, I could not steer the Power Point presentation myself and was dependant on the technical assistance by the host.

All in all, the Skype lecture was an experience for me. I can only hope that the lecture was a challenge for the workshop participants.

BTW In the lecture I went into future opportunities for the E-book like interactive books. But I forgot the way back opportunity of 3D printing of an E-book!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

BPN 1692: The first Dutch cybernauts met again

On October 28, 1977 the Dutch Association of Users of Online Information Systems officially was granted its charter. On October 29, 1977 the first meeting was held. Looking back VOGIN members were the first official cybernauts in the Netherlands. Recently some of these  Dutch cybernauts met. 

The battle of Arnhem Bridge has its veterans and online Netherlands has its cybernauts. This first brigade was active more than 20 years before internet was launched in the Netherlands. Recently this brigade met at a rare meeting, held in Amsterdam. They got together for a dinner and shared memories on the early days of online searching. The occasion was the termination of a foundation, awarding  a stipend for publications on online retrieval. The foundation was affiliated with the VOGIN, the Dutch Association of Users of Online Information Systems. In 1984 the foundation was launched in memory of the online pioneer, Rik Molster, who died young, and was one of the founders of VOGIN.

Upon entry of the dining hall, the entrants skittishly looked around, while people who had already arrived, showed a glance of recognition. Some people had not seen each other for a long time. Yes, Charles Citroen, the godfather of online in the Netherlands, was there as well as Jan van den Burg , the information science emeritus professor John MacKenzie Owen and Peter Evers. The real eminent grise of the brigade, Guus Mathijsen, arrived late. Also the younger generation with Hans van Harteveld, former library head of the Royal Tropical Institute, Ruud Kuipers, former president of VOGIN and ex Kluwer, as well as the director of TU Delft Library Maria Heijne was present. Hans van Nieuwkerk, former CID TNO and now an entrepreneur in Hungary, just happened to be in the country. Altogether some 30 cybernauts were present.

The group of the founding fathers was made up of people working as online intermediaries in academic institutions and libraries as well as in companies like DSM, Shell, Unilever and AKZO. Way before Google these searchers knew how to solicit relevant publications from host computing companiesin the shortest time  possible as connect time to the host and connect time to the telecom network was very pricy. To search files, one needed to have knowledge of a number of query languages​​. Online services such as the American Dialog, SDC and BRS and European organizations ESA-IRS and DIMDI had their own search language. IBM used the language Stairs, while the French company Bull had Mistral and Kluwer Law bought the retrieval package status.

VOGIN originated in the seventies, when there already was a close-knit group of scientists and librarians using online for research. There were no courses yet and there were a lot of rookie mistakes, misunderstandings and incomprehension. Besides problems with the hosts, there were problems with the Dutch PTT on data communication matters. The cybernauts had to find out a lot themselves and be inventive. In order to share experience and to form a group against the hosts and PTT, the association VOGIN was established on October 28, 1977. One of its first activities was to start courses for searching databases. In 1980, the first manual Introduction to online literature research, was published with the support of the VOGIN members Lieuwien Koster and Jan van den Burg. Even in the Google era these courses are held. The association has turned into a foundation in 1995 and is now part of the Royal Dutch Association of Information Professionals (KNVI).

 At the occasion of the termination of the Dr. Ir. H.C. Molster foundation a pdf was produced with a retrospect of the foundation and a list of stipend winners. The file is in Dutch, but it contains also interesting photographs.