Wednesday, August 08, 2007

My museum of content related artefacts (25)

1977: TI Silent data terminal

I still have a photograph of the machine, which put me in contact with the online world for the first time, a Texas Instruments Silent data printer. It was basically an electronic typewriter with thermal paper and a built-in acoustic modem with telephone holder. The speed was 110 baud; a fast typist would mess up the transmission. I only have a photograph, but do not have a unit in my museum. A data monitor at that time was expensive and did not contain any smart functions; they were dumb terminal. So the TI Silent was an efficient terminal to lug around and demonstrate search actions with from remote host machines at Deventer, the home of Kluwer Legal, but also legal US online services such as Lexis and Westlaw.

The machine and the depicted desktop version were in use for demonstrations within Kluwer Legal. This management of this Kluwer division had visited the US in 1975, looking at legal databases such as Lexis and Westlaw. In their trip report to the holding the management had concluded that Kluwer Legal had to invest in this type of future. And the company did. By 1977 there was a Bull mainframe with the retrieval software package Status, developed the UK nuclear laboratory in Harwell. It was a full text retrieval package which searched on any word in a file. And Kluwer assigned two pioneers, Mr Cor Verschoor for the marketing side and Mr Jaap van Beelen for the technical side. One of the first actions of the team was to load some files to demonstrate the retrieval system. Photo typesetting files were converted. One of the first problems was that the files were not the final error-free texts. So the files had to be corrected before they were loaded again. At last they had a working demonstration file and could start demonstrating at the offices of lawyers and demonstrations for the professionally interested groups. Around 1980 Kluwer came out of the laboratory phase and started to commercialise the service. Given the limitations of the Dutch language and the geographical limits of a country like the Netherlands it was going to be a long-haul to make it profitable business. Yet there was a lot of optimism. The targets groups was broad and had clients in government, lawyers and legal consultants in companies. Mr C.A.F. van Kempen used in an interview with Boekblad in 1981 the following sum to demonstrate the legal potential: “There are some 4.000 lawyers divided over 1.200 offices. This means a multiplicity of users per office.” At that time the publisher already bet on a bridging of the generation gap; the younger the user, the longer the usage. In 1985 the development costs of the Kluwer Legal Database, valued at 12 million Dutch florins, roughly 6 million euro, were written off. In 1987 the online service was extended with CD-ROM products. These off-line text products were completed with an online service for the latest news and developments in the legal sector.

For Kluwer, at that time a conglomerate of newspapers, magazines, professional information services and encyclopaedias, the online service was a great inspiration. People in the subsidiaries started to think about electronic publishing and the future of publishing. A working party was set up and demonstrations and meetings were organised to start up the discussion. In this way the publisher was prepared for its future.

In the rest of the Netherlands online was a topic for cybrarians, librarians who looked into the future. In 1977 they started an association of Dutch Online Users, VOGIN. I guess that they are the first Dutch institution which were registered in the database of the Chambers of Commerce with the word online in their name. They were also the first association which published a book about online retrieval in Dutch in 1981. During the advent of internet, the association fled into the safe arms of the library association and missed an opportunity to educate the new online generation in media literacy and in using search machines.

Blog Posting Number: 833


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