Tuesday, January 15, 2019

BPN 1746: Launch Digital City Amsterdam 25 years ago

Today it is 25 years ago that the Digital City Amsterdam was launched. Digital City Amsterdam was a historic project as it meant a breakthrough for internet in The Netherlands, but also an example of a virtual community. 

By 1993 technical access to Internet was available in the Netherlands. Three ISPs (NLnet, XS4ALL and Knoware) delivered the technical access mostly to companies, but did not offer any other services. They invested hardly any effort in marketing and promotion as most clients found their way to the companies/foundations. This changed drastically in 1994 when the De Digitale Stad (DDS) came online. This foundation was an initiative of De Balie, XS4ALL and was set up in order to form a discussion platform for six weeks for the upcoming municipal elections. It was a success from the start, partly because a visitor got a free e-mail address and free access to other textual information. So far internet visitors had to fiddle a lot with their PC settings in order get contact with the host. But through DDS internet could be reached via a dial-in connection and through public terminals at the City Hall and the debatting centre De Balie.

'Mayor' Marleen Stikker cuts the cake in celebration of the first year anniversary

The site
DDS was heavily promoted in the media as well as with citizens and in institutes like old folks homes by the virtual mayor of the digital city, Marleen Stikker. Once DDS was on its way, it got support to continue from the municipality of Amsterdam, grants from the ministry of Economic Affairs and the ministry of Internal Affairs and sponsorship deals. But after a year free access to Internet DDS had to close this facility. In one year DDS attracted 10.000 subscribers and by 1997 DDS had 50.000 subscribers.

The development of the interface from a first not executed design of the digitalcity (top), the first textual screen (middle) and the first graphical screen (under)

The first version of DDS was a textual interface. But this changed, when on October 15, 1994 the world wide web interface was introduced. This was a bold graphic interface, which brought out the virtual city elements such as squares and buildings as well as homes. By 1997 around 6500 subscribers had an own home, of whom 1500 inhabitants had their own front door. Besides visitors, DDS also had inhabitants, who could build their own house for free with 5Mb; they also received an e-mail address for sending mails in and outside the virtual city. Inhabitants could also accept another fantasy identity, but this could always be checked. They could also see where other people were in the city and talk to them, while in cafes they could chat with each other.

The Sports Square (left) and De Baarsjes neighbourhood with houses in the middle (right)

By the end of the millennium DDS did have trouble to cover debts and the board decided to change the foundation into a limited company. DDS became part of the commercial ISPs. This transition solicited a lot of emotions from inhabitants and led to a schism, named the only genuine digital city (DeDS).

A map of the Netherlands with digital regions, digital cities and villages

Digital cities
DDS was the first digital city in the Netherlands. But soon digital regions, cities and villages popped up like mushrooms and usually died as fast as they came up. In 1986 Wegener and later on VNU Newspapers launched City Online, a project designed by Maurice de Hond. The format looked similar to that of Digital City Amsterdam, complete with houses for inhabitants. It was an expensive project, which was dependent on the goodwill of the editor-in-chief of the printed newspaper in the city or region. City Online never really took off and by January 1, 1988 the project was over. Presently regional newspapers still experiment with digital cities, villages and regions e.g. 010 in Rotterdam andDichtbij (Near) in Enschede.

Web archeology project
An archive of Digital City Amsterdam was created, when the foundation changed into a limited company. But in 2016 the web archeology project, RE: DDS, was set up by De Waag, a foundation operating at the intersection of science, technology and arts, Amsterdam Museum, the Free University and the University of Amsterdam. The recovered digital devices, magnetic tapes and CDs and were able to emulate software even to a presentation level. One of the results of the RE: DDS project was the FREEZE! manifest.

Ther will be a celebration in Amsterdamat the Public Library. The former virtual mayor will speak and address the pressure on the public character of the internet: "Internet companies enter the public space of the city and also put the public character of the Internet under pressure. The digital public space that we saw before us 25 years ago is now a 'market place', where power is centralized in a handful of large companies with a data hunger that seems unstoppable. Can the mores of these companies be combined with the values of our society? And who actually determines the rules, now that online and offline are becoming increasingly interwoven?"

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

BPN 1745: Dutch site on Tarot 23 years unchanged online

Last week during the UN World Preservation Day, the Royal Dutch Library published the web incunabula of the Dutch internet supplier Euronet. One of the striking sites in their archival web collection was the site of apolitical party. When I shared the news about the Euronet web collection with Peter Bloemendaal, a former colleague of mine. Through him I came into contact with Euronet. To my own surprise, he reminded me of the Tarot site on Euronet, dating back to 1995, 23 years ago. 

An artistically minded family member of mine, Doetie Spinder, had drawn a deck of Tarot cards. And to help her, we saw Internet (at that time still written with a capital!) as a distribution and sales channel. Internet was rather new and it would open up the world by using the Dutch and English languages on the site. And  the series of cards could be sold via internet. The drawings were scanned and there Peter Bloemendaal started to bang html code on his Apple machine. On 20 November 1995 at 21 minutes after midnight, the site was launched.

After the launch the site hasn't changed anymore. This can be seen from the 60 captures of the homepage on the Wayback Machine/Internet Archive, which were recorded from 27 January 1995 to 17 February 2006. These captures also provide information about the frequency of visits.  On 26 November 1995 a counter was put on the site. Until 31 December 1997 the site was visited by 361 visitors. From 1 January 1998 the URL was changed and the visitor registration started anew,  with on 6 October 1999 the number of 4366 visitors and on 23 July 2001 the counter showed 6677 visitors. After that the counter was started again and the number of visitors climbed to 5454.

There was also a guestbook on the site, registering reactions from 1995 to 1997. These came from the Netherlands, Italy, USA and Australia. Often the messages contain admiration for the drawings. In1996 one visitor noticed that more detail of the drawings was desired. But given the slow speed of the network at that time, that would have spoilt the pleasure as longer download times created the danger of visitors moving away.

On the homepage a facility was offered  to order the deck of Tarot cards, which started with the drawing of The Fool. Now after 23 years the number of orders can be counted on just one hand. From outside Holland, there were inquiries from Italy, USA and Australia, but orders with advance payment did usually not materialise. And the orders from the Netherlands did not come through either, simply because there was no convenient payment method through internet yet.

Why is the site interesting at this juncture of time? The site is now 23 years online without any change to the text or the drawings. This, while in 2018 an internet page will be online for an average period of 90 days and it will hardly be archived. Moreover, these days most sites are created with content management packages, containing many templates for easy handling of content and layout. The lay-out of this Tarot site - mind you two years before the launch of Dreamweaver - is completely manually typed with html mark-up codes. The original file of the site has now been transferred to the Royal Dutch Library and will archived from January 4, 2019 onwards.

Monday, December 03, 2018

BPN1744: 'Ancient' Dutch web collection found

A web archiving team of the Royal Dutch Library started to secure Dutch internet sites in 2007 and has now stored more than two million websites with a .NL suffix. Since 2017, the team has paid special attention to the very oldest websites from the early days (1992-2000) of the Dutch web. The first Dutch website came online in February 1992 and this Nikhef site was the third website worldwide. This was followed by real internet pioneers such as NLnet and Knoware. But the real breakthrough of the Internet in The Netherlands came with the Internet suppliers XS4ALL (May 1,1993) and The Digital City Amsterdam (15 January 1994). 
On November 29, 2018 there was a big surprise, when the Royal Library announced at UN World Preservation Day, that the web archiving team had discovered a special web collection from Internet provider Euronet. This is interesting, as Euronet is an Internet provider with a 'long' history. 

Euronet,the company
Euronet did not have its roots in the Internet, its ideals and anarchy. Euronet*Internet meant business by providing access to internet for companies and residents. The founders, Arko van Brakel and the Englishman Simon Cavendish, realised that Euronet had a difficult message with explaining what the Internet was and how to access it. So the company had to attract attention and it did. So the founders designed a welcome box for newsubscribers, containing a manual and a CD for gaining access to internet.

Their most famous action was the monkey tail campaign, where on the morning on 1 May 1995, Labour Day,  posters of a monkey with a curly tail were posted in bus shelters throughout Amsterdam .

In 1998 France Telecom bought the company, after which the company changed hands several times as did the trade marks: Wanadoo, Orange and now under most of the original web name Online.nl.

Despite all these marketing problems, the URL euronet.nl continued to exist as a sub mark for the business market. And so you can find sites that exist since 1995 and have never changed. Moreover, the archiving team has found overviews of the websites on Euronet from May 1997, December 1998 and 2005 and February 2017. Only a small part of the original Euronet sites is included in the collection of the well-known Internet Archive (IA) archives service. The web archiving team accidentally found a copy of a political website of the Dutch liberal party D66 from 1998 and pages of the local site of the D66 chapter Aalsmeer. According to the source code, this site has been online at this web location for twenty years.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

BPN1743: UN World Digital Preservation Day

The UN has designed the last Thursday of November as World Digital Preservation Day. Special attention will be given to the digital preservation of heritage and vintage items. But what does digital heritage mean?

The word preservation reminds me of Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana. The City is famous for its Dixieland music, but that has not been always so. It is only after revival of Dixieland music in the fifties, that Dixieland became en vogue again with marches in the French Quarter and bands in the Mardi Gras carnival parades. It was in 1961 that in St.Peter’s Street an old building was designated to promote the tradition of Dixieland music. And that is what happens. In the sixties the veteran musicians like Sweet Emma and Kid Thomas started to play there famous blues. When the veterans died and had been buried with the last blue Oh, when the Saints, the music tradition continued. The rather sober music hall is the embodiment of preservation with three keywords: Protect, Preserve and Perpetuate.

Preservation Hall is an analogue preservation project, perhaps with the exception of digitally recorded music CDs. But its 3P slogan goes also for digital preservation. Of course many heritage and vintage items such as existing music recordings, existing movies, paper books  can be converted by the AC/DC route, from analogue to digital for preservation purposes in archives, museums or other memory institutes. But more interesting is the preservation of digital-born items, produced with computers. Of course the question is often: why should we preserve them. Of course computers and devices can be preserved for technical interest and sometimes for showing ergonomic aspects like the use of a mouse. But it is more interesting to preserve digital-born artefacts to show how digital technology has been used to create an artefact of beauty, be it digital art or games or items from other disciplines.

Let us preserve digital-born items of beauty, otherwise they will be lost or we will have to dig them up again, using digital-media archaeology


Friday, November 23, 2018

BPN 1742: 30 Years of open internet in The Netherlands

Last week on November 17, it was 30 years, since The Netherlands as the first European country linked up to the open internet through the US National Science Foundation. An update of a blog posting of 17 November 2013 with the original permission e-mail and a video (subtitled in English) by CWI, the internet pioneer in The Netherlands

Dutch internet pioneers Jaap Akkerhuis, Daniel Karrenberg, Teus Hagen en Piet Beertema (right) at the pensioning event of  Piet Beertema on 16 September 2004. Source: CWI.

In the Netherlands, the Mathematical Centre (MC) in Amsterdam in 1982 was in contact with Arpanet and played a role  an important role in the UUCP network of European universities. MC became the network gateway between the US and Europe. Domain names were released by Arpanet, but in 1986 a shortage of the domain names threatened for the 25,000 computers connected to the UUCP network of universities and the Arpanet. Piet Beertema, employee at MC (but from 1983 onwards CWI, Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica) came up with the solution of a country suffix in the domain name. John Postel from the Stanford Research Institute, responsible for the domain names, approved the country suffix dot country code as a proper instrument.

And on April 25, 1986 the suffix .nl was allocated to the Netherlands. The Netherlands was the first country with its own country code. On May 1, 1986 the first Dutch domain name cwi.nl was registered. The next domains were: nluug.nl (association of professional Open Systems and Open Standards users in the Netherlands); nikhef.nl (The National Institute for Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics); rug.nl (university of Groningen) and sara.nl  (Collaborating academic computing centers). Piet Beertema was the registrar and recorded the domain names. In the first two years he was not very busy, as he only registered 60 domains in his notebook. In 1989 there was only one registered domain name. Apart from academic computer centers companies could also register a domain name, but they had to show their Chamber of Commerce registration paper.

The slow growth was due to the transformation that internet underwent. Arpanet decided to continue as the military internet branch and the National Science Foundation became responsible in 1988 for academic and commercial NSFnet. On November 17, 1988, at 14:30 pm Piet Beertema linked The Netherlands as one of the first countries outside the US to the academic network NSFnet. The Netherlands brought the first, non-military, transatlantic connection to the Web.

This connection did give a boost to internet use in the academic world. But the registration of domain names only really took off from 1993, when the Dutch ISP XS4ALL on May 1 launched its Internet services to consumers on May 1, ending the first day with 500 subscriptions. And the Internet began in earnest, when the Digital City opened its gates and businesses did not know how fast they had to register a domain name in order to have an internet profile. Over the following years registration of domain names increased. In order to keep pace the Foundation for Internet Domain Registration in the Netherlands (SIDN) was founded. On January 31, 1996 the tasks of the CWI were transferred to SIDN.

End of March 2016, more than 5.8 million domain names were registered with SIDN (see  SIDN statistics).

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: https://www.youtube.com/embed/wg74YRcv4Tc (commentary in Dutch language)