Monday, August 08, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 8: Hybrid videotex

The number of Viditel users did not grow fast. Yet in order for videotext to become a success, a fast expansion was needed. One way to reach this was by cable. The Netherlands had already a high density with cable and could function as a new distribution net. The first idea was to have a two way cable network to distribute videotext services. But in order to do so networks had to be upgraded. In the South of the Netherlands, called South Limburg, there were few networks; so that would be an ideal area to start the innovation. On March 12, 1982 the government decided in favour of an interactive two-way cable net for television, information services, video-on-demand and alert services. With 90.000 households in the area Totaalnet was started.

It took some time before the project got on its way. Finances were a problem and companies like VNU, Publimedia (Yellow Pages), Delta Lloyd and AMRO Bank were asked to put in money along with the grants of the government. But the technology was not refined either. Most of the 59 million guilders (27,5 million euro) went into the infrastructure and technology. Kerkrade was the only city that got two-way interactive cable. Maastricht and Heerlen were left with a hybrid system.

The South Limburg project as become similar to a technology driven project with hardly any attention for the development of services. As the government was one of the main sponsors of the project you would have expected an official investigation why the project did not succeed.


Gustaaf van Ditshuijzen (left photograph, most left) at a Ditzitel presentation and a brochure (right). Compliments of Gustaaf Ditshuijzen.

The hybrid system was a development of VNU New Media department. Engineer Gustaaf van Ditzhuijzen discovered that the DMF tones of a push button telephones could be used for identification of the subscriber and as input for the videotex computer, while the cable could be used for distribution of the requested pages. Fred Kappetijn was the promoter of the system; his main argument was that investments had to be made in the infrastructure and not at the subscribers’ end. No less than 10.000 cable net subscribers in Amsterdam with a television and a push button telephone were potentially subscribers to the Ditzitel service. And the subscription price of 2,50 guilders (1 euro) a month could hardly be a problem.

But Ditzitel did also experience problems. The launch would be in September 1986, but was postponed to March 20, 1987. But on that day the service was neither launched. Software problems with the identification, the lacklustre interest of the consumers, advertisers and information providers did VNU decide to cut the project and write off 23 million guilders (10 million euro). It took VNU more than 10 years before investing again in information services, this time in Internet.

VNU had written off the hybrid videotext technology as not stable. Yet by 1988 the hybrid technology worked and was introduced as Rits services on various cable networks, amongst others as Thuisinfo service on the in The Hague. In 1994 Thuisinfo used the hybrid principle for selecting by telephone and distributing internet by cable.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 7: The first Dutch public online service

On January 28, 1980 the Dutch PTT made the name for the videotex service public: Viditel (see with the help of the telephone. The service would be launched during the holiday season. The date was set for Thursday August 7, 1980.



The launching meeting was planned in a PTT office at the Beatrixlaan in The Hague. The minister of Transport and Communication, Neelie Kroes (the present EC commissioner) was to open the service. But as she was on holiday in the North of the Netherlands, the PTT had offered a link to the yacht. When the moment supreme was there, the television cameras were started and drew so much electricity, that the lights went out. This was an ominous sign for the future of the service. The 8 o’clock news that night had an item on the launch of Viditel, lasting 3 minutes with an interviews of an PTT director and Wim Stokla, the project manager of the Teletekst service.


Standard homeset (left) and demonstration set (right)

In order to pre-empt the chicken and egg problem, of not enough equipment (users) and too little information (information providers), the PTT requested from every information provider to bring along a client in lieu for 50 pages. The user would have to pay for his own equipment; a colour television set with built-in teletext chip (ca. 1500 to 2000 euro) and modem (subscription of 4 euro per month). The user would also pay for the telephone connection.


The first job vacancy service Jobdata(VNU Intermediar) and the opening screen of the Dutch Expert Promotion Service (right)

The service was launched with 150 service providers like the publishers VNU, Kluwer, Wegener, Tijl Data, the Dutch AA service ANWB and the retailer Albert Heijn. There was the first job vacancy service Jobdata of VNU Intermediair, a real pageview getter, which was killed in 1983 by Rob van den Bergh (now CEO of VNU). And the national airline KLM got competition from the ticket price comparison service of the travel shop Ad Latjes. ANP was present with its wire service. Krantel, a consortium of newspaper publishers, explored the new medium; it divided its site in categories like Netherlands, Abroad and Finance and when news was lacking, it read on the page: TODAY NO NEWS. A similar problem showed up with the Boekdata, book information service; the site showed a category Titles published today, which some days read: NO TITLES TODAY.


Opening screen of the news wire service ANP (left) and a page of Boekdata (right)

The excitement in the first months was great. Mr R. Post of Werner Electronics said in an interview with a trade magazines, that the company would sell 5.000 decoders in 1981. But this enthusiasm died down. The number of users grew slowly; there was an increase of business users, but hardly an influx of residential users. When the first year of Viditel ended in August 1981, there were 180 providers and 3.000 users. As for the providers, they had to pay from that time onwards; more than 50 service providers left the service. But surprisingly the PTT showed positive figures in the autumn of 1981; these figures were to reassure the service provider and attract more user. This trick was discovered by the editorial staff of Media-Info and lead to an intensive discussion with the PTT Viditel bureau about pumping up the figures.

The inflated figures did not help and it was clear that Viditel had a difficult road to go, as the users were not attracted in droves. So other contingency plans had to be drawn up. Videotex distributed over cable was proposed as an attractive way; yet the technology would still have to be developed. A real impulse came from the Postbank that started electronic banking in 1986. By September 1989 Viditel as a public service was terminated and replaced by Videotex Nederland.

Why did Viditel fail? A lot of reasons can be offered. People were not used to electronic information distribution nor exposed to the value of electronic information. Also the confusion between teletext and videotext did not help. The perceived incompatibility of the upcoming PC and videotex technology did not contribute. The fact that the technical PTT was the manager, operator and promoter of the information service, was a handicap. The service was very expensive for households and not too cheap for professionals.

Yet Viditel was the first public online service in the Netherlands, open for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year; this in itself was a service innovation for a country with no Sunday papers (at that time) and a country where bakeries are (still) closed on Sunday.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Installment 6: Information service on televison

On Tuesday April 1, 2005 the Dutch television information and subtitling service Teletekst existed 25 years. It has been the longest running and most used new media service ever since.

The first mention of teletext, as the English generic name is for this technology, is made in a BBC internal memo on December 1970. On February 9, 1971 the BBC files for a patent On Teledata, the first teletext system. By October 1972 the service, dubbed Ceefax (See fax), is announced by the BBC and a series of trials are set. In January 1973 the first public demonstration of the Ceefax system took place in London. In April 1973 the Britain's Independent Broadcasting Authority announced a competing teletext system, named Oracle. (Historic data by David Carlson).


Test screen

Two employees of the NOS, Jan Buddingh and Cees Veenendaal saw Ceefax in 1976 and started lobbying for introduction in the Netherlands. On April 1, 1978 the Dutch broadcast foundation NOS started the experimental phase of Teletekst to experiment in a small church in Bussum outside broadcast city Hilversum. This period was closed with the launch of Teletekst. Project leader Wim Stokla managed a small department, which took care of the 100 pages, mainly news pages and pages with information on radio and television programs. But the department also took care of undertitling programs. On October 4,5, and 6, 1980 at the start of the new television season, the department took care of undertitling the trilogy Mourning becomes Elektra (Rouw past Elektra), a television play by John van de Rest.


Opening screen

Teletekst was in some way a source of confusion for new media novices. On September 5, 1978 even a symposium was held under the title Viewdata and Teletekst. People had to be given an explanation that teletext was a broadcast medium transported by the ether and forwarded by cable, while for videotext information was transported over the telephone line. But by its launch Teletekst was clearly profiled as a broadcast service. The service was even legally covered as a broadcast medium by defining it as a service with moving pages. The broadcast industry did not any interference by commercial parties. With the advent of commercial broadcast companies in 1989 the teletext system became also in commercial use.

The introduction of Teletekst took some time as television sets needed a particular chipset. For the launch special decoder boxes were sold. However the new television sets after 1980 had a built-in chip set; such a set bore the price tag of 3000 Dutch guilders (roughly less than 1500 euro). These days it is difficult to get a television set without a teletext chip set in the Netherlands.

The first computer could store 100 pages. At the end of 1981 the computer could hold 200 pages. The Teletekst editorial staff was extended and the NOS Teletekst service had become part and parcel of the broadcasting service, according to Wim Stokla. Eventually the amount of pages grew to 1000 pages. This created space for more information categories. So next to the news and broadcast information pages new services were linked into the services. One of the most popular services before the Internet era was the Schiphol service on departure and arrival times. When in 1989 the commercial broadcasting companies atrted to broadcast, they also started to use the teletext facilities for commercial use. In 1995 more than 80 per cent of the Dutch households had a television with Teletekst facility.

With the arrival of Internet, Teletekst got the PC as an extra outlet. In 1993 the NOS started its own Teletekst site. In 2000 the service got its own browser, which can be downloaded. In the meantime Internet and mobile phones are extra outlets for Teletekst. This also implies that the visits to the Teletekst pages on television are going down. By 2004 the viewing figure had gone down to 2,2, million people, a drop of 20 per cent since 2000.

Has Teletekst a future or will it be replaced by interactive teletext? Looking at the growth of setup boxes for digital television in Great Britain, the bell for teletext will toll in the near future. An interactive teletext service on a setup box looks more like an Internet news service and will offer more and better graphical information than the present teletext system. In the Netherlands the change over will take some time and depends on the change over from analogue broadcast to digital broadcast.

Friday, August 05, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 5: 1980 online was serious business


In The Hague in 1980 EC official Franco Mastroddi explains Euronet Diane network (collection Jak Boumans)

Just towards the end of 1979 the European Commission introduced Euronet Diane (Direct Information Access Network for Europe), a European data network. This made it easy for telecom companies to link in offer European services. It helped the hosts of ASCII database services, but also videotext services. So the expectations for 1980 were very high.

On January 2, 1980 VNU made a statement by a full size page advertisement by VNU. It was the announcement of the new subsidiary VNU Data Publishing International (DPI). The company, managed by Jay Curry, profiled itself as “an ultra modern publishing company, which uses the most modern technological tools as computers, viewdata, text processing and table computers. Although all these tools are indispensable for DPI, modern publishing means that all tools have to be used, even existing tools such a conferences, books, etc”. In short, DPI was a most modern publishing company using old and new media tools.


A Superbrain, online with telephone and a 300 bps modem (collection Jak Boumans)

And as with other companies at that time the PC finally started to make its entry. Philips sold its P2000 to business and consumers, mostly members of the Hobby Computer Club, founded on 27 april 1977. And one shop in Amsterdam North sold various brands of table computer PCs such as Superbrain.

By January 28, 1980 the Dutch PTT made known the official name of their service: Viditel (seeing by telephone). On April 1, 1980 the Dutch television information service, Teletekst, went on the air and has been the best new media service ever. And on August 7, 1980 the service Viditel was launched. I will come back on Teletekst and Viditel in my next blogs. In the same year Kluwer started to commercialise its Legal Database. The long experimental phase had passed, the costs for setting up the service had been written off in one stroke and the hunt for paid subscriptions for law companies had started. Online had become serious business


First edition of Media-Info (collection Jaka Boumans)

All these new developments were confusing to many people. But for publishers it meant haytime. On October 1, 1980 the bi-weekly Media-Info, a newsletter on old and new media, was launched by VNU. It dealt with newspapers, radio and television and cable as well with videotext, satellite and video-on-demand. The newsletter changed its masthead to Telecombrief in order to be a sub-publication of Telecommagazine. It was sold to EDP services, part of Heliview in 1989 and sold on to Broadcast in 1992. It is still the oldest printed newsletter on new media, although it has been focussing more on telecom than on new media and has lost much of its importance since Internet, the speed of gathering news and the many newsletters copying each other.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 4: The online Volkswagen

Think back to a time that there were only really big computers, named main frames and table computers, named mini-computers. PCs like Dynabook were still on the drawing table; in fact it would take till December 1974 when the microcomputer age took off thanks to a cover article of Popular Electronics magazine on the Altair 8800, a lights-and-switches computer that cost $439 in kit form.

Another development in consumer information services was the television set as delivery station. In 1971 the BBC started the development of the first teletext system, which received the service name Ceefax. In the same year Sam Fedida, researcher at the the British Post Office's Research Laboratory, demonstrated "View data," the world's first videotext system (the name view data was changed into videotex due to brand name problems). Videotex was based on the same presentation protocol of teletext, however it has a communication link by telephone. With a television and a telephone in every household, the only link lacking was a modem and decoder. So videotex was perceived as the technology for consumer information services and the lower end of the business market. Videotex was the online Volkswagen.

And the momentum for online started to build up. The first purely consumer on-line service in the United States was The Source. It was founded in 1978 by William von Meister, a local telecommunications entrepreneur who envisioned a ‘home information utility’ that would do for computers what AT&T did for telephones. This service was based on the ASCII protocol (a character set of 128 capitals and under cast letters and figures, with 80 characters on a line and the line scrolling from top to bottom).

But Europe turned to the videotext presentation protocol ((seven colours, 40 characters per line and 24 lines per page). So by 1977 various PPTs were looking into videotext and by 1978 the scene bursted open in Great Britain, Germany and The Netherlands. The British Post Office started a test service, named Prestel, which was launched commercially in September 1979. Germany started experiments with Bildschirmtext (Btx) in 1978.

The Dutch PTT also selected the British videotext technology above other systems in development (France, Finland, Hungary) and in September 1978 showed the system with some Dutch contributions at the national consumer electronic fair Firato. The show made the publishers nervous as they saw that the system could be a competitor to them, while other companies like banks and retail chains considered the medium as a new carrier for advertisements and eventually for transactions. A flurry of activities around videotext was started. Tijl Data started to work on a link to the stock exchange. De ANWB took a hard look. The retailer Albert Heijn was interested. The AMRO bank showed interest.

VNU took videotext very serious. Intermediair Conferences organised in December 1978 a conference Viewdata in Nederland, followed Viewdata PTT in May 1979. Besides running the conferences, Intermediair started a consultancy, managed by Jay Curry and run by Arjaan Everts. It was the fastest way to absorb videotext service experience. The consultancy TVS (Adapted Videotex Systems) offered advise to VNU companies and to third parties.


Videotex central computer (left) and the VNU executive business terminal

Before the launch in 1980 the PTT and VNU divided the market. PTT would cover the residential market and VNU would focus on the business market. Both companies went home and did their homework, wrote plans and started to order equipment. The PTT ordered its GCE computer and many modems. VNU ordered its own computer and business terminal with TV, teletext and videotex and an automatic telephone dialer(!). But the nearer the launching time got, the more nervous the parties got. Eventually the PTT told VNU that the pact was off. So VNU was left with a videotext central computer and 1.000 units of the executive business terminals.

BTW My VNU executive terminal is still working as far as TV and the Dutch Teletekst service. As for videotex it is still makes abortive attempts to automatically dial the defunct Waterloo computer in London .

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 3: Kluwer starts online database

In 1975 the law publisher Kluwer started to develop an online legal database. In my perception Kluwer is the first Dutch publisher to start developing a database with the intention to distribute the information online. The protocol for distribution is called ASCII, the American code for information interchange. In its strictest form it existed of 128 codes representing 128 letters and figures. In its extended code it represented 154 codes representing the 128 letters and figures, but also the diacritical signs such as the accents, trema and tilde. A user sees maximally 80 characters per lines, which start rolling from top of the screen to the bottom.


A print-out of a sentence

The managers of Kluwer had seen legal databases in the US at Mead Data Central and West Law in 1975 and realised that someday this phenomenon would hit the Netherlands also. So they took the lead. They went ahead aggressively and bought a main frame computer from the French company Bull and a full text retrieval system named Status, a software package developed by the British nuclear institute in Harwell. But for retrieving you need a text database; so they started to build it up with tapes of texts from phototypesetting. The text was of course not corrected, so wrongly typed words went into oblivion.


Portable terminal with thermal printer


From 1977 onwards there were two people on the project: Cor Verschoor and Jaap van Beelen. Jaap took care of the technical side. Cor was the explicateur and marketing man. They had a terminal with a thermal printer to take around and gave demonstrations to lawyers and of course the few people who were interested.

It took Kluwer till 1980 before they really could go on the market and sell a service. Of course there was no line of lawyers waiting to get a subscription, but still Kluwer believed in it. It took them years to convince the lawyers and when they were finally succeeding, the CD-ROM technology came around. They had at least one advantage at that time. They had large text databases to store on the silver discs. And in 1985 they could be found on a pilot disc together with a dictionary database of Van Dale Lexicography and medical database of Bohn, Scheltema & Holkema. I still have the disc, but cannot play it anymore. By 1987 Kluwer had the first commercial disc entitled Juridische Databank (Legal database). The software company in charge of the production had some troubles (which is a real understatement) as the production software was not very stable. But eventually the disc could go on sale and was such a success that online went almost out of fashion.

It was a shock for the company to see online coming into fashion again with internet. Despite all the exercises they had done with mark-up language, they could start anew to produce internet sites and link their databases to a portal. Wolters Kluwer did not react in time and still has problems playing the new game.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The Dutch radio program Radio Online picked up on the 25th jubilee of public online in the Netherlands. There was an interview in the studio (see photograph with me on the left in a blue blouse. For those who speak Dutch or those who do not speak Dutch, but just want to hear my voice, you can listen to the interview on Radio Online, select 2 August and look for the box 25 Jaar and start the interview on the prompt below on the left.


MMS photographs of interview (compliments by Richard Verbeek,Progress Communications)

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 2: Librarians going online

Online in Europe can be dated back to 1977. It was in that year that the UK company Learned Information, now a VNU company, started its publications on Online and its annual Online Conference in London. Especially the Online Conference was a recognition for all online users in Europe. These online user were in many cases documentalists or academic librarians. And in order to achieve another status these online users were often called intermediaries or information specialists.

In 1977 a group of Dutch information specialists set up an association of online users entitled named Vereniging van Online Gebruikers in Nederland, VOGIN (Association of Online Users in the Netherlands; these days they still use the same abbreviation VOGIN, but carry another name: Association of Users of Interactive Information systems). The association registered the organisation at the Chambers of Commerce. This is probably the first time that the word online appeared in the records of the Chambers of Commerce.

The online users came from two environments: international corporations or universities. International corporations usually had a research group. In order to keep the researchers up to date, the information specialists sought in abstracts of scientific articles for new developments. On the other hand they were asked by researchers to search in databases in order to find a particular piece of information; that is why they called themselves sometimes intermediaries or literature researchers. So in The Netherlands you would find VOGIN members coming from research institutes like TNO, companies like DSM and universities.


The result of a search action on a host in 1978

The association was not just started for the recognition of the members. But the association was also active in getting connected to hosts. As online contact was made on normal telephone lines destined for voice with speeds ranging from 110bps to 300bps (in those days they spoke of baud as measure for speed) and there were no special dataline centers, the Dutch PTT was asked for assistance. Those pioneers could savour the time spent on tweaking for connections. Hosts were accessed by dumb terminals, terminals with thermal printers or through mini-computers.


First edition of Inleiding tot online literatuuronderzoek (collection jak Boumans)

By 1980 the association had a complete training program and wanted also a handbook. They turned to ITIS (Information Technology and Innovation Service), a department of VNU Database Publishing as the publisher. On 23 December 1980 the book Inleiding tot Online Literatuuronderzoek (Introduction to Online Literature Research) was published, according to the signature in my copy. The cover of the book shows the state of online in those days: a terminal with a thermal printer and in the back two naps to hold the telephone.

Over the years VOGIN educated many generations of professional searchers. Their members knew a lot of tricks to search the databases, but also a lot of short cuts to avoid high costs for the telephone connections, the fees for hosts and the copyright fees on the information.

They did not immediately embrace videotext as this was not important for their type of work. On the other hand, they jumped onto scientific literature CD-ROM. But when internet came about, I expected that the members would accept a social role and start educating the public in searching. But they did not. In fact they opted for an association as an independent sibling of the national library organisation.


Present logo of VOGIN

I learned searching from one of the founding fathers of VOGIN, Charles Citroen. To me he is the godfather of online in the Netherlands.; he was already involved in computed literature search since 1968. The VOGIN members of the pre-internet era were the real cybernauts avant la lettre.

Monday, August 01, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 Instalments

Instalment 1: The first signs of online

Just go back to 1970. Can you imagine that there was no computer in sight in most companies or at home? If they were used in a company they were no more than sublimated calculators. But for an editorial department of a publishing company the IBM golf ball typewriter was the closest to a computer as it had 1Kb of memory. And PCs did not even exist.

In 1970 I took a job as an editor Humanities in a newly created reference department for a general encyclopedia, De Grote Spectrum Encyclopedie. Part of the publishing method was that the editorial staff was going to work with a mini-computer. This calculator would help the editorial staff storing and aligning all the references and links of the 20 volume encyclopedia.


Two pages of a dummy of the Grote Spectrum Encyclopedia (1973; collection Jak Boumans)

Although I did not realise it at that time, working with a computer in a publishing company was not entirely new in the Netherlands. In fact in 1968 Excerpta Medica, a publishing company of magazine with medical scientific abstracts, had bought a mini-computer to do the photo typesetting and all the references. The company had been set up by a group of people among which Pierre Vinken, the later CEO of Reed Elsevier. As a surgeon he came into contact with hospital systems (in the Netherlands with BAZIS) and started to apply the principles for the publishing company. The company started the production unit Infonet for typesetting and text management (these days it would be called content management). Mr Vinken was often consulted by many people and institutes. So he was a consultant to the library world. Yet it would take them till 1979, before the library system PICA, based on the BAZIS system, would be launched.

But online was not visible to me in the early seventies. This, however, changed when I got into a position at a Kluwer subsidiary, where the refernce department was producing three encyclopedias. So phototypesetting was set up and a general mark-up language was used for future derivatives. In fact I remember that in 1978 I attended a meeting of Mr Brian Blunden, president of the British research institute for paper and graphic industry, who toured Europe with the inventor of (S)GML Mr Charles Goldfarb of IBM. It would take till 1990 before Mr Herwijnen in collaboration with Mr Berners-Lee applied the SGML principles to internet and developed HTML.

Besides phototypesetting we developed a lot of new tools, such as alphabet routines, as the American computer alphabet did not suffice. But also on the data entry side, new working methods were developed. With a leased line from the PTT (did we know that this was a monopolist) we linked up a computer terminal with the phototypesetting plant. It was my first introduction to online.

Soon it became clear to me that there was something brewing. The term electronic publishing had been limited to the efficiency of the production process at that time. But towards the end of the seventies new ways of distributing information online came in sight.

Read tomorrow about the first signs of online in the Netherlands.


Sunday, July 31, 2005

25 Years Online in the Netherlands: A Compact History in 25 instalments

Instalment 0: Introduction

In 2005 many companies celebrate their 10 years of existence online. Recently the daily Eindhovens Dagblad celebrated the 10 years existence of an online edition. On June 15th, one of the major IPs Planet Internet commemorated its launch. On July 1st, 2005 the Dutch quality newspaper NRC-Handelsblad was 10 years online.

No mention in the media is there, that on August 7th, 25 years ago, the first public service came online. On that date in 1980 the Dutch videotext service, named Viditel, was launched after two years of preparation. No one had any experience with setting up and selling an online service. Only a handful of progressive librarians had experience with searching scientific and technical information online.


Opening screen Viditel (1980) and the Internet home page of Buziaulane (2005)

The launch of the online service was the starting point for a complete new industry in the Netherlands and it took quite some time for it to blossom. The videotext period lasted from 1980 till January 1st, 1997, when the public service Videotex Nederland was unceremoniously dumped. Also other online services in that period, the so-called ASCII service never made any real impression in terms of business and turn-over.

When in 1985 the CD-ROM came onto the market, many people believed that online would be dead by 1990. But it did not. In fact CD-ROM and its spin-offs like CD-I and Electronic Book were frozen online multimedia carriers, which taught Dutch production companies multimedia and formed a perfect launching pad for Internet.

Internet in the Netherlands came into the main streams from the universities. While students at universities worked with e-mail and fast online, the first World Wide Web browser was being developed at CERN in Geneva (Switzerland). With Mosaic and Netscape as the first web browser, the first commercial ISPs started to show up in 1993. With the creation of the Digitale Stad (Digital City) in Amsterdam, the first online consumer service was created.

By now small band internet has grown into broadband, almost covering more than 50 per cent of the households in the Netherlands. This is opening new avenues like triple play: one telephone line for telephone, internet and television or cable for television, internet and telephone, both as an integrated offer. As such it will bring television programs and theme channels to the home, whenever the residents want it.

Besides fixed line internet, internet content can be picked up by mobile phone. And here also convergence starts: music and movies can be downloaded, but also television programs.

In 25 years online in the Netherlands has grown into a content and digital services industry, mainly due to internet. And in the meantime it has gone through the rise and fall scenario during the dot.com crash from 2000 till 2003. After the hype and the backlash, the way up has set in again.

Read how online in the Netherlands grew: about the ventures and the failures; the optimism and the realism. Read tomorrow about the starting environment for online in the Netherlands.


Jak Boumans, a videotex representation in the magazine Boekblad (1981) and a photograph on Internet (2004)


Saturday, July 30, 2005

Dutch snippets of the week


Dutch flag

Telfort starts with EDGE network

The mobile telephone network Telfort starts on Monday August 1, 2005 operating its EDGE network. It will be the first mobile company with a fast mobile network covering the Netherlands nationwide. The speed will be 236 Kbps over against UMTS 384Kbps. UMTS in the Netherlands by KPN and Vodafone do not have a nationwide coverage yet. Telfort still has a UMTS license which it inherited from O2, but so far has not done anything with it. KPN is intending to acquire Telfort for 1,1 billion euro.

Whatthehack convention calls for resistance

Hackers should peacefully resist the gross violation and limitation of the freedom of speech, which are put upon people under the pretext of the fight against terrorisme. That was the message during convention Whatthehack in Liempde by Emmanuel Goldstein and Ron Gongrijp. The convention is held in the south of the Netherlands in a tent camp with a fixed and mobile net with people, mainly men and a growing number of women, coming from all over the world. The convention is held every four years. During the convention around 150 presentations will be given. You can have a look at a video with commentary in Dutch Modem / ADSL

Biketag.nl against bicycle theft

A sticker with a code and a sms system are the basis of a typical Dutch service Biketag.nl. In a country with millions of bicycles, many bicycles get lost and stolen. Now bicycle owners can buy a sticker with a unique identification number for five euro. The sticker is put on the bicycle. The identification number is linked to an e-mail address of the owner of the bicycle. When a bicycle has been retrieved, the owner gets an e-mail that his/het bicycle has been found. The company Biketag.nl estimates that more than one million bicycles get lost or misplaced every year. The system is not waterproof as the tag can be removed from the bicycle, yet the method majors the existing practice of engraving the ZIP code in the frame of the bicycle.

Two press wires fight

The incumbent press wire ANP is fighting the start up Novum. Last year ANP won a court case from Novum as ANP claimed that employees of Novum got into the ANP database illegally. Novum was ordered to pay an advance sum of 50.000 euro. In the extensive court case that followed the judge declined to adjudicate the financial and publicity claims.

Friday, July 29, 2005

40% turn-over from electronic products and service



The publisher Reed Elsevier presented this week its half year figures. For financial people the figures are interesting. But to me there was an interesting statement: 40 per cent of the turn-over comes from electronic products. Reed Elsevier has come a long way.

The roots of electronic publishing of Elsevier lie in the company Excerpta Medica. This company produced so called medical abstract magazines, publications with summaries of scientific articles and keywords. To produce the magazine and keep track of the keywords, the company bought in 1968 a mini-computer. They were in my estimation the first Dutch publishing company to do so. Managing director of the publishing company was Pierre Vinken, who was also a surgeon. As such he got into touch with automated hospital systems and saw the opportunities for the publishing company. In 1971 Excerpta Medica was sold to Elsevier, including the production company Infonet.

Within Elsevier, Excerpta Medica was based within the Elsevier Science division. The medical component of this division grew very fast. The methods of Excerpta Medica were used. Magnetic tapes were used as distribution medium for medical and pharmaceutical research companies and databases were loaded on American host like Dialog and BRS.

When CD-ROM took the role of frozen online, may of the databases of Elsevier Science were put on the silver discs and distributed worldwide. After 1995 Elsevier Science began to move from printed magazines to electronic counterparts. It was in this cross-over, which has not finished yet, that there came strained relationships between Elsevier Science and the libraries. Subscriptions went only up, while libraries were obliged to have printed as well as electronic magazines.

The smartest move came, when Elsevier Science announced the database project, ScienceDirect. Next to the legal database Lexus and news database Nexis, Elsevier set up a database with all its own scientific publications.

By 2000 Elsevier Science brought in the majority of revenues generated by electronic delivery. In total Elsevier made 30 per cent of its turn-over from electronic products. By now, 2005, Elsevier Science, but also Reed Business contribute to the 40 per cent of the Reed Elsevier turn-over. It has taken 5 years in order to add another 10 per cent turn-over from electronic products. I guess that the next 10 per cent will take only half of this time. So by the end of 2007, the balance of Reed Elsevier’s turn-over should tip over the 50 per cent mark.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Digital movies in historic backdrop

Yesterday was an out-of-office day. Up to Nijmegen, most likely the oldest city in the Netherlands. For some the city might be known as it was an important city in the battle of Arnhem (A Bridge to Far). Other, the more sporty type, might know the city from its annual event of the Four Days walk (30, 40, 50 km).

I was there, however, as the company Digital Film Center Europe has moved from a very rustic place to Nijmegen recently. It is now based in the center of Nijmegen in a beautifully restored building called Arsenaal (Arsenal). The Arsenaal offers room to companies and institutes, preferably with a movie link. In the building the Joris Ivens Foundation is based. This Foundation manages the heritage of the movie maker Joris Ivens, who was born in Nijmegen. Close to the Arsenaal is the Luxor movie theatre, fit for digital movies


Arsenaalpoort (left) and the Arsenaal building (right)

In this historic backdrop I had a talk with Floris Kolvenbach, who is in my perception a multimedia veteran. In the eighties he was already playing around with multimedia. He used multimedia in order to compose music and light events. Later on he moved more to movies and the restoration of movies and proves himself to be a gifted writer and script-writer. His company Digital Film Center Europe is a private company.


Opening screen of the Moving Image Cyclopaedia

In this company he developed a product the Moving Image Cyclopaedia. Technically it is a multimedia content management system for multimedia assets (movies, photographs, animations, text, links, references to library books) and for multimedia asset registration (copyrights, owner, author). But he also showed what the system can do in The Moving Image Cyclopaedia (English for the Dutch term 'Beeldbibliotheek'. It is an educational multimedia product, specifically designed for libraries, providing access to a wealth of audiovisual documentary, linked with contextual information and books, available in local libraries. The application can be distributed best via LAN-, WAN broadband environments, given the high quality of the moving image materials.The Moving Image Cyclopaedia has been successfully introduced in the Netherlands, in the City of Almere, in the library and the Helen Parkhurst College and in cities of Arnhem, The Hague, ‘s Hertogenbosch, and Amersfoort. The next city in Europe will be in Germany, in the city of Düsseldorf (NordRheinland Westfalen). When Floris presented the Moving Image Cyclopaedia for the first time in Almere, the system contained 110 themes; now the system has expanded to more than 1100 themes and there is still no end to new movies and new themes.

We also spoke about new ideas. He gets excited when speaking about setting up a digital movie festival in Arnhem and Nijmegen. Such a festival could be a companion festival to Cannes. Movies showed in Cannes could be projected in Arnhem and Nijmegen at the same time through broadband connections. Of course you would love to have some of the stars at the showing also. But then he would have to develop a tele-transportation system for that. Can you hear Nicole Kidman say: ‘Okay, Scotty, beam me up’.

Walking back from lunch in the restaurant of Luxor movie theatre, he points to a small church opposite his office, which is disused at the moment. He hopes that one day he can exhibit his collection of robots there and have robots for kids to play with around the church.

Unleashing the gorilla in cable networks

Last week I wrote about the speed upgrade which might be expected in the next year or even half year. The Finnish company Teleste predicted that it would start to upgrade the speed on cable systems to at least 30Mbps by 2006 and 100Mbps by 2007. The Dutch cable company Essent still hopes for a head start of at least one year.

I went back today to the site of Teleste and saw that the company was doing some real marketing. So far it had relied on press releases and photographs of boxes and cables, but now they had an animation The Virtual Giant, telling about the advantages of Ethernet to the Home (EttH). With the Hulk imitation the company wants drive home that the speed will be ominous. Teleste wants to rock your world with a virtual world.

The EttH does not need a modem, but an EttH wall outlet, which can be installed by the customer himself. They can simply put the Ethernet cable into the wall outlet and link it to your computer. The EttH wall outlet has a built-in filter, so there will not be any ingress by unwanted services.

Altogether this animation is not bad. It does not show what the speed does to the download on the screen. In fact when showing the new speed a very slow break-out game is shown; this is not exactly a recommendation for the system. Yet, for a company selling boxes, cable connections and wall outlets, this animation must be a major step forwards in their marketing strategy. Despite the grossness it is funny and technically well done.
Tiscali Netherlands and KPN have reached an agreement for the transfer of more than 60.000 Tiscali ADSL retail subscribers to KPN. for a total consideration of around 13 million euro. The agreement concerns exclusively those Tiscali Netherlands ADSL subscribers that are connected to the KPN network through a resellers contract between the two operators. Customers will not experience any change in services. Settings and conditions will remain identical.
This transfer is part of Tiscali’s strategy to focus on the accelerated unbundling of the proprietary network allowing the company to offer competitive ADSL access products as well as innovative services to its ADSL subscribers.

The transfer sum is around 13 million euro. So these days, an ADSL subscriber represents the value in terms of money: 13 million euro : 60,000 subscribers = 216,66 euro per subscriber. In historical perspective this is not bad for Tiscali. On the height of small band Internet in March 2000 a Dutch World Online user was 6.400 euro worth. This valuation had gone down to 1850 euro by December 2000, when World Online was acquired by the Italian company Tiscali. By January 2001 a French Liberty Surf user was worth 1066 euro. But in April the value of a German Planet Interkom user to Tiscali had come down to 110 euro. By November 2001 the absolute lowest price was reached when Tiscali paid only 5 euro for a Dutch Wish Nok Nok user.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mathematics, Arts and Cultural Industry

About a month ago I received a CD-ROM from Marcella Giulia Lorenzi, a Ph.D. student currently attending the PhD course in "Psychology of Programming and Artificial Intelligence" at University of Calabria, Italy. I met her in 2003 at 'The Europrix Summer School and ACTeN Scouting Workshop” in Salzburg (Austria), held at the Kolleg St. Joseph in the Garden of Villa Trapp, organized by ICNM (International Center for New Media), entitled "Producing Broadband Multimedia Content - 3D, Music and Video on the Web'. The participants produced a broadband project on "Sound of Music - Reloaded", about the famous Hollywood motion picture shot in Salzburg, and web design of the summer school's daily weblog, including more than 700 pictures. Have a look at the site; it contaiuns some hilarious fragments and pictures.

She was a little bit of a stranger in the team as all the other participants were people studying multimedia production. She studied and still studies mathematics and is a multimedia artist interested in combining art and science/technology. Yet asked for research areas of interest, she will tell you: Electronic and Generative Art; Storytelling; Interactive media; Communication and new technologies or if you want to have it in other terms: Computer Graphics & Virtual Reality; Educational Technology; Electronic Art; Visual Arts, Film studies & special effects; Digital sound processing, Linguistics. Altogether, she covers a broad field.


Menu page of CD-ROM

The CD-ROM, which has been produced by her, is a CD-ROM on Mathematics, Arts and Cultural Industry. This is a very wide area. The CD-ROM contains the proceedings of a September mini conference held at an island near Venice and the proceedings of a national conference in May held at Cetraro. It contains papers, but also multimedia, ranging from photographs to videos and music. But the CD-ROM contains also multimedia presentations such interactive movies with 3D figures and sounds as well as presentations of virtual museums. I have been scanning through the papers and the multimedia assets with a lot of interest. The menu of the CD-ROM is bilingual in Italian and in English and the papers are also in English.

It is funny to see mathematicians busy with art and the cultural industry. Their point of departure is quite different from people that have studied art or cultural management. I expected to see somewhere a link to Escher, a Dutch artisan who put mathematical riddles into his painting. But also with the music you do not expect baroque, but some strange sounds. Well people interested in this are fully served by this CD-ROM.


Poster on maths and art

Monday, July 25, 2005

Web log search engines

I was reading this morning about search engines for weblogs. Since I started Buziaulane, I had problems finding back some weblogs. But now weblog search engines start to pop up all over the place: technorati, bloglines, feedster, icerocket, blogpulse, blogslive, topicblogs and omni-explorer.

So I started testing some of them. I think I like Technorati.com the best so far. I typed in some subjects like World Summit Awards and EUROPRIX.nl and got hits and a lot of garbage. Then I discovered their exact search with quotations marks and it worked. No Google dilution of terms, but the straight links I was looking for.

The lists are very interesting. I started with “World Summit Award” on technorati.com. The search term delivered a list with 55 links with the latest posting (11 hours ago) from Belgium with the WSA entries for the Grand Jury. The earliest one was from 146 days ago. The mentions of WSA in the blogs came from people involved in the WSA, but also from other people. In order to read them all, you will have to start studying Arabic and Japanese. Here some samples:

یک هفته تمدید ثبت نام...
ارايه دستاوردهاي برتر ايران به رقابتهاي جهاني ‪ World Summit Award‬اعلام كرد كه همزمان با اجلاس جهاني

日本代表優秀サイト決定のご報告
World Summit Award - Geneva 2003 - Tunis 2005(WSA) http://www.wsis-award.org/

תחרות לבחירת תכנים...
משרד החוץ ואיגוד האינטרנט הישראלי מכריזים על תחרות ל"איתור מיטב התכנים הדיגיטליים והיצירתיות", במסגרת תחרות ה-World Summit Award הבינלאומית


Geographically, there are links from all over the world from American, Romanian, Pakistani to Tunesian blogs. Mostly these blogs tell about the competition. But there is also blog which is critical of the WSA. It is the blog Amsterdam, activists and academics about my strange encounter at Incommunicado 05. But it contains also a link to a blog on SIGGRAPH mentioning the initiative. The “EUROPRIX.nl”search term delivered 20 references.

I think that this search engine is going to make me very happy referencing my own blog postings.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Gearing up for Bahrain



There was intensive e-mail traffic with Bahrain yesterday. Bahrain will be the host to the World Summit 2005 Grand Jury beginning of September. So now the hosts, the Bharain Government, and the local chapter of ISOC are clearing the administrative details for the arrival of the Grand Jury eminent experts and staff. I have been invited as a staff member.

It has been through the World Summit Award 2003 that I got to know Bahrain. In Dubai in 2003 I met and befriended Waheed AlBalushi, a Bahraini by birth. Since WSA 2003 Grand Jury we have met several times at various occasions, Hong Kong, Beirut and Vienna and had many e-mail exchanges. In the beginning of 2005 I was proud to be part of the jury of Bahrain e-Content Award.

Now we are gearing up for the Grand Jury of the World Summit Award 2005. With the WSA 2005 I expect more entries than the 803 entries of the WSA 2003. Theoretically the batch can be 1334 products (168 countries x 8 entries), but not every country will enter 8 products. So I guess the Grand Jury consisting of 40 eminent experts will evaluate almost 990 products. So in one week the jurors will see 990 products from all over the world. Who gets such an opportunity?


The World Summit Award 2003 Grand Jury in Dubai

Of course just meeting 40 eminent experts from all over the world will be an interesting happening in itself. During the WSA 2003 Grand Jury in Dubai we had a real fine team. Besides working together, the jury members made many friendships. And they produced a book in 40 days (see below), which was presented at UN World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva. It was unbelievable that a band of 35 people who did not know each worked together and became professional colleagues and friends. I am anxious to see how this is going to work out this year with the WSA 2005 Grand Jury members.

=========================================


Book jacket of e-Content: Voices from the Ground

The book «e-Content: Voices From the Ground» presents for the first time a comprehensive comparison of e-Content and ICT policies on a global scale. It introduces 30 countries from every continent on their way to the Information Society. The book comprises a mixture of expert-interviews and research findings which describe the situation of ICTs in countries like Brazil, Gambia, Slovakia, Canada, Zimbabwe, Indonesia or Bahrain. «e-Content: Voices From the Ground - Version 1.0» by Osama Manzar and Peter A. Bruck has been published by the Digital Empowerment Foundation and the World Summit Award.
The book costs EURO 15/$ 10.
More info: www.econtentworldwide.org
=========================================
(BTW Today it is Grand Prix Formula 1 racing again. This time in Hockenheim in Germany. When I was in Bahrain it was just one month before the race at the newly built circuit there. Our hosts showed us around the venue. It was great for at least two of us. Gaby Deek, our Lebanese WSA expert, was part of the team that bid for the F1 in Lebanon. Lebanon did not get it, but Bahrain. As a race enthousiast I loved the visit to the circuit. I understand that on the last day of the WSA 2005 Grand Jury our hosts organise a farewell dinner at the circuit.)


Left: Entry to the Dubai GP circuit. Right: On the royal deck. Gaby Deek (left)

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Dutch snippets of the week


Dutch flag

Internet podcasters have to pay up

The Dutch collecting organisation BUMA/STEMRA offers podcasters on internet a license agreement for legal music and spoken words fragments. BUMA/STEMRA offers amateurs an open agreement for 35 euro a month, regardless the amount of programs or songs, and professionals will pay 85 euro a month and 13 per cent of the turn-over.

Lost Boys makes a small profit

Web bureau LB Icons, better known as Lost Boys (amongst other from the Grand Prix Formula 1 races), has turned its loss position over the first half year from a loss of 2,6 million euro into a handsome profit of 800.000 euro. Great Britain and Germany with 25 percent of the turn-over each, are the most important markets; the Benelux follows with 21 percent.

Unheard Beethoven

Since 1997 the Dutch programmer Willem Holsbergen and music lover Mark Zimmer collect copies of original but never recorded music of Beethoven. They are hunting for written fragments and reconstruct the music in such a way that it can be played again. So far Holsbergen and Zimmer have published 230 music parts.

Pageviews of top 15 Dutch sites

(X miljoen in June en in May 2005)
1. Hotmail (MSN): 330 (186)
2. Nu 265 (196) – news site
3. Startpagina (Ilse Media): 231 (216) – homepage directory
4. Messenger 217 (143)
5. Clubs 163 (155)
6. Zylom: 161 (133) – games
7. Funda 148 (135) – real estate
8. De Telegraaf 112 (98) - newspaper
9. Teletekst 101 – broadcasting news service
10. Telefoongids 99 – telephone directory
11. Web-log.nl 55 – Dutch language weblogs
12. Planet 49 (45) – major ISP
13. Wanadoo: 48 – major ISP
14. MSN 48 (37)
15. RTL 44 (49) - television

Source: STIR, July 2005

Friday, July 22, 2005

Waiting for the next speed upgrade.

This week a press release was on the wire about the PowerLine technology. “The UniversalPowerline Association (UPA) announced that it has published a paper of proposed specifications entitled, "Powerline Communication Systems - Access/In-home & In-home/In-home coexistence mechanism – General specifications". The proposed specifications are intended to be the starting point for the work of standards setting bodies, including the IEEE and ETSI”.

So the Homeplug technology is still alive. But when will it be available? It has been a subject since 1980. During a conference on videotext, an online precursor of internet, I heard about it for the first time. An English consultant told the audience that videotext would be a technology, which could automatically record the power consumption of a household. There was never an experiment in the Netherlands at that time and the technology never materialised. It remained a white elephant.

Since 2000 the technology was promoted again. But this time there were also experiments. In Mannheim, Germany the power company started the internet service Vype. And this service is still alive; in fact it has extended its service with telephony. In the Netherlands the power company Nuon started the trial Digistroom with 180 households in the city of Arnhem in 2001. The maximum speed was about 2Mbps. But in 2003 Nuon terminated this trial as the technology appeared to be unmanageable. I thought that this was the end of the technology. But it is still seen as an opportunity.

Presently the latest upgrade in the Dutch consumer infrastructure is ADSL2+. Versatel is using it in order to start its triple play roll-out. The company tells subscribers that 6Mbps is needed for television and 14 Mbps for downloading internet. KPN has also started with an ADSL2+ upgrade for consumers.

Looking at other infrastructures in the Netherlands, the cable is more successful. The Netherlands has a penetration rate of 94 percent of the households. Cable has presented itself as a player in the broadband market slowly. In 2002 coax cable operator Cai Westland, through its subsidiary Kabelfoon, upgraded internet speed to 16 Mbps (up- and downloading). In 2003 the Finnish company Teleste announced a cable upgrade to 50Mbps; however in the Netherlands no cable company has upgraded its network for this speed yet. Since 2003 the Dutch power company Essent is experimenting with Teleste to upgrade the speed. Recently I spoke with an Essent official who told me that they are using the Teleste technology and are now going for speeds up to 100Mbps over the cable. According to a press release this upgrade should be relatively cheap, up to maximally 200 euro per household.

Yet, I am really wondering how long it will take when this cable upgrade will be executed. In the Netherlands, it would make an end to a long, senseless discussion between the glass fibre lobby with the incumbent telco KPN and the municipalities of The Hague and Amsterdam on the one hand and the cable lobby on the right hand. It would make competition more transparent, at last. A recent bidding procedure for a citywide broadband network in Amsterdam, from which the cable companies were excluded, felt like the Italian bank acquisition fight between ABN AMRO and bank Pop Lodi.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Wrong choice, ANWB; be a publisher

(c) ANWB

The Dutch AA, ANWB, stops its own line of navigators Engin. In a short press release the automobile association says that it can not compete with companies like Tom Tom and Route 66. The present owners of an Engin and subscribers to the extensive version EnginYOY will be offered a solution. My speculation is a Tom Tom or a Route 66 unit.

The navigator adventure has been a short term one. And having had an intensive ad campaign in the spring, the ANWB must have concluded that it was no extra to have a custom made navigator from the automobile association, while you could buy standard one anywhere. I am not sure that the price was even competitive. Besides I had the impression that all the downloading was not so user friendly.

One thing that the ANWB did understood is that you could add tourist information to the navigator. As such it had started EnginYOY, a kind of electronic magazine with tourist information about Rotterdam, for example, with electronic vouchers. So let’s go to Rotterdam and have dinner in a particular restaurant and pay less with the electronic voucher. That was not a bad idea. In fact the jury of the EUROPRIX.nl 2005 did recognise this concept, executed by Bookmark, and nominated EnginYOY in the mobile category.

What was the basic mistake of the ANWB? The automobile association has publishing activities next to its car services. As a publisher you should never go into hardware, if you cannot control the market. Sure ANWB did not only choose for a Personal Digital Assistant, but also a smart phone. But they should have known that they were never going to drive this hardware market.

IMHO the ANWB publishing arm should have concentrated on the loads of content they have collected over the years and have made digital. They have been long enough in EU funded projects to digitise tourist and cultural information. They should have taken the role of a content provider rather than a content provider and hardware distributor. As a content provider the ANWB could make that content available through navigator producers like Tom Tom and Route 66 or directly through their own publications. Now they have lost time in the development of that content and will find competitors on its way.

Pity, such a waste of resources and that at a time that ANWB is loosing members and money.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Murdoch catches up fast


Rupert Murdoch (compliments of Wikipedia)

In the beginning of May I wrote the following digest of an article on Rupert Murdoch under the heading Murdoch is converted!. “It has taken quite a while, but now at last the tycoon has seen the light. In May at a luncheon of the American Society of Newspaper Editors Rupert Murdoch, owner of more than 175 English-language newspapers worldwide, urged newspaper editors to grab on to the digital revolution, stop fearing or ignoring the power of the Web, and do more to serve the young news consumers between 18 and 34 years of age who are more and more going to the Internet for information.



In his speech he admitted that he had taken unconventional approaches in television, but had been lagging behind with the developments regarding Internet. However he did not indicate what he measures he was taking to get in the league again”.

By now we know, however. Having brought his editors-in-chief from all over the world together for a brainstorming session in New York in September and the public confession mentioned above, he started a new company Fox Interactive Media (FIM) and named Ross Levinsohn as President. One of his fist actions was to buy MySpace and Intermix for 580 US dollar. MySpace is a social software company like LinkedIN, e-Academy and OpenBC. With MySpace FIM bought content assets in entertainment and traffic.

Is this a wise acquisition? Recently the New York Times bought About.com. This also had content assets and a lot of traffic. One of the assets was a series of blogs about anything, whether about my home town Utrecht or about medieval miniatures. The site has some blogs that are heavily visited, but also many that have a small crowd of faithful followers. Het gaat in feite om een site met een Long Tail.

As to the social software sites I am not so sure of their success. Yes, they are hot presently, but going towards lukewarm IMHO. I hate the Monday morning mail of OpenBC, telling me my contact statistics; making me feel guilty for not actively hunting for links; hinting to me that I should become a premium (= paying) member. It is something for network tigers: please link to me than I have scored so many links. But do you get assignments this way? Yet as a closed system for an international organisation such as the European Academy of Digital Media, the Instructors’ Network or the jury of the World Summit Award it would be great.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Banks dictate the pace

In the past days the major Dutch banks and the national postal service TPG, part of the TNT Group, made a lot of rumour about the digital mailbox for electronic invoices. So the client will not get any invoices or bills through the letterbox, but will get a separate mailbox for those financial statements. The TPG will coordinate the mail process and the banks will coordinate the payment process. It is unbelievable that it has taken so long for the postal organisation and banks to get together.

Electronic banking in the Netherlands is not new. It was possible since 1986, when the Postbank started electronic banking through the videotext system after a long trial. I joined the first electronic bankers of the Postbank later that year, when I returned from Great Britain, where we had lived for more than 3 years. I have never been inside a post office to pick up money. It was freedom at last: no more long lines, no more moody people behind the counter.

I still bank with the same bank and their electronic system has gone rusty a bit. They do not have a 24/7 electronic transfer service, but transfer orders at night through a private system. It is not ideal, but at night I mostly sleep, so it does not bother me really.

The bank instituted Internet accounts some years ago. They yield more interest, but are also more primitive. In this case you can transfer money 24/7, but the money will be in the account two days later. So there is no real time transfer or even one day transfer. This while other banks do have real-time transfers during office hours.

But now at last the banks are going to streamline the consumer bills at last. They are most likely looking to save costs. They could have done this years ago, but only start the process now.

The banks have set up an alliance with the Dutch postal service for this service. TPG had already an e-mail service for bills, called Privver. TPG started the service up in 2001. People could register themselves electronically without any identification, but had to write a physical letter if they wanted to abandon the service. In its first months 30.000 consumers subscribed, but then the registration stagnated and did not reach the objective to have 200.000 subscribers by the end of the second quarter of 2002. At this momemnt Privver claims to have 130.000 subscribers; it would not surprise me if the database is strongly polluted by ghost subscribers like me, who did not use the account any longer, because of the limited possibilities, and had to terminate the subscription in writing.

But now at last the banks are going to give an impulse to streamlining the delivery and payment of the bills. Rabobank signed for the system already last year and now major banks are following the example. In finances you can have brilliant ideas, but banks dictate the pace.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Versatel to be acquired by Tele2

Wow, this is a surprise, this news release. Versatel will be acquired by the Swedish telecom operator Tele2 and the investment company Apax. After the false press release of last week and the failed talks between Versatel and Belgacom, comes now in the hands of a price fighter. This morning Tele2 and Versatel held an webconference.

The shareholders of Versatel are making a nice profit from this acquisition. Tele2 has now gotten its own network in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). Apax will acquire the German part of Versatel. And John de Mol makes another nice profit on the sales of his majority share (42 per cent). Only thing I wonder about it how the Dutch Soccer Association is going to react on this news.

Versatel has an agreement with the Dutch Soccer Association to broadcast the Premier league in the next season. Versatel has promised to distribute the soccer games through it ADSL2+ network and aims at 100.000 users. So far the campaign for ADSL2+ has gone slowly and the Dutch Soccer Association might consider the acquisition by Tele2 as an occasion to break the contract.

John de Mol, chairman of Talpa Investment and the Talpa television and radio stations makes it clear that he is not going to buy Versatel in order to have an exclusive internet and television distribution channel, as has often been said. It is clear that John de Mol can separate investments and interests in his own company activities. He stands to make a handsome 475 million euro from the shares with a nice profit of 100 million.

After the acquisition of Versatel by Tele2, the German part will be split off and acquired by Apax the investment company for 565 million euro. Of course this company does not buy it just for the heck of it. It will have undoubtedly some intention to make it lean and mean and sell it off or merge it with one of the telecom companies it possesses now like Kabel Deutschland, Primakom and Tropolys. Versatel bought the company, which is mainly active around Berlin, some years ago. It was a strange buy as the networks were not close to each other geographically.

Tele2 is a Swedish telecom operator, which has grown over the back of incumbents throughout Europe. With pre-carrier, private virtual mobile networks and internet it has built up a company with a turn-over of 43 billion euro. For Tele2 the acquisition will be a consolidation in the Benelux market and a larger share. Besides there will be synergy between Tele2 and Versatel as Versatel has its own network. Of course the agreements with amongst others KPN and its recently acquired mobile company Telfort will not be renewed, which will drive down the share price of KPN.

As for Versatel itself, a lot of things will happen. The name Versatel will disappear from the Amsterdam Exchange. After two or three years most likely the name of Versatel will disappear and be brought in line with Tele2. As Tele2 has learned the hard way to get its administration in order in 2002, being hunted by the Dutch Consumer Association and the television program Radar, it might share its experience with Versatel. And Versatel can use a marketing lesson or two from Tele2.
Just an example. Versatel has SOHO clients with Business all in agreements, which come down to an internet package and ISDN ADSL (1052/254). When it launched the ADSL2+ service some clients wanted to change to the higher speed. Clients were sent from the business desk to the consumers’ desk. They would have to change from ISDN to analogue through KPN. Now months after the announcement of the offer Versatel still does forward an offer to the SOHO clients. No wonder they will not reach 100.000 connections by the end of the year. Unless Tele2 tells them the trick that the internal organisation is completely irrelevant to the customer and the present base of business customers are also potential consumers at another time of the day.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Fujitsu demonstrates colour e-paper

News from the digital paper front. Last year Philips showed its digital paper. It was impressive as it was usable for reading in the sun. A handicap was the black and white representation, no colours yet; it was neither bendable, yet. Philips developed this digital paper together with E-Ink. (pictures; long version (2.26 min.); short version (1.25 min.).

Fujitsu has also been working on e-paper for some time. But now this Japanese company has surprised the market with bendable paper and colour presentation. But looking at the competitive side: Philips has already developed a factory production; Fujitsu is still in a laboratory phase

Fujitsu showed at the Fujitsu Forum 2005 on July 14 and 15 at Tokyo International Forum the film substrate-based bendable colour electronic paper featuring image memory function. The new electronic paper features vivid colour images that are unaffected even when the screen is bent, and features an image memory function that enables continuous display of the same image without the need for electricity. The thin and flexible electronic paper uses very low power to change screen images, thereby making it ideal for displaying information or advertisements in public areas as a type of new electronic media that can be handled as easily as paper.


e-Paper of Fujitsu, bendable film and colour presentation (copyright Fujitsu)

To me digital paper will be a break through in usability. It will be used for screens on televisions, PCs, PDAs as well as smart phones. Readeability will improve a lot, at last (think of just reading a PDA in sunlight; it will be a real advantage over the present film screens). For long it was also portrayed as a new carrier for electronic books and newspapers. For paper I see chances, but I have doubts about e-books. Having seen Sony put in digital paper in a Japanese version of the Librie and using the conventional business model, I am not convinced e-books (hardware and a file) will be a single-purpose, independent information carrier. I believe that I will download e-books just as songs on my smart phone. But by 2015 we might read the newspaper on digital paper, but without videos. Tank your news in the morning from your wireless connection!


The book E-Content - Technologies and Perspectives for the European Market edited by P.A. Bruck; A. Buchholz; Z. Karssen; A. Zerfass addresses the question how content industries change within a digital environment and what role information and communication technologies play in transforming the competitive landscape. Order through Springer Online.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Dutch snippets of the week


Dutch flag

Self regulation in internet and telecom marketing

It was already possible to register yourself against all kind of pushy marketing actions on internet or by telephone in The Netherlands. Now the organisation handling this self regulation has gotten new bylaws and an independent chair person. Members of the Dutch Dialogue Marketing Association (DDMA), being market research companies, call centers and the webshop association, are obliged to use databases with names of people, who do not want to be bothered.

Journalists did not check e-mail

The Dutch media company Talpa and telecom operator Versatel were the victim of neglicence by journalists. The Dutch wire service ANP and the financial service Betten got e-mails saying that Talpa and Versatel were negotiating with T-Telecom. Without checking with the spokespeople of the companies they published the content, which led to a rise in the stock quotes for Versatel. Had the journalists read the e-mail properly, they would have discovered that the mail had been sent through the anonymous e-mail service Shitzooi.nl.

Webshops doing well


While Dutchretailers are complaining about people not spending money, webshop owners show a dramatic rise in revenues and confidence. Coolblue has seen its turn-over grow in the first half year of 2005 with 120 per cent from 6,7 to 14,7 million euro with 12Dutch and Belgian webshops. Computer webshop TakeitNow has grown 47 per cent up tot 2,8 million euro in the first half year of 2005. And book and DVD shop Bol.com received 17.000 applications for the new Harry Potter book.
The confidence in webshops is growing, according to the Thuiswinkel association of webshops. More than 24 per cent of internet users know of the Thuiswinkel, know its label and have confidence in the certificate.

Building an internet directory

The Dutch ministry of justice is said to be building and testing a telecom and internet directory with e-mail addresses as well as fixed line and mobile telephone numbers. For this exercise, telecom operators and ad ISP will be obliged to offer the numbers and names. Many of the ISPs like to wait till the outcome of the European discussion on the obligation of storing data for justice inquiries.



The book E-Content - Technologies and Perspectives for the European Market edited by P.A. Bruck; A. Buchholz; Z. Karssen; A. Zerfass addresses the question how content industries change within a digital environment and what role information and communication technologies play in transforming the competitive landscape. Order through Springer Online.