Tuesday, July 31, 2007

My museum of content related artefacts (17)

1984: IDB Online

The picture is a collage which was pasted for the launch of IDB Online by VNU in London in December 1984. It contains a copy of the paper edition of the newsletter IDB Information Daily Bulletin published. It is dated July 11. 1984. The paper edition of the newsletter comes out of the telephone. The background of the collage was inspired by the masts at Brow Head, one of the most Southern point of Ireland from where Marconi established his first wireless transmission station. I learned that out when I was on holiday in Ireland and stayed in nearby Crook haven. Marconi was in Crookhaven during his search for a suitable site to send the first transatlantic message. He had masts at Brow Head and put a telegraphic transmitter on the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse. Some years ago, a storm took all the sand out of Galley Cove and exposed the huge cables that connected the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse with his radio room in Crookhaven.

The IDB newsletter was a daily newsletter for the computer industry. It had subscribers in the UK and USA. The paper edition was forwarded by snail mail; given the many mail strikes in the UK, the newsletters were held up often and the US subscribers fell victim to this delay. As it was an already existing newsletter, with subscribers, who were active in the computer industry an electronic edition was often discussed. Mailing a newsletter of 2K max should not be a problem.

When I was seconded to London for VNU in October 1983, I had clear ideas about the electronic edition of this newsletter. I had picked up experience with electronic newsletters as the editor-in-chief Jean-Paul Emard had started the Online Chronicle on the US host service Dialog. Every fortnight an edition was put together and I delivered news about the online scene in Europe.

Plans for a daily electronic newsletter were presented, but the management was hesitant. VNU’s first investment in electronic publishing had been in the American company Disclosure; but it was more for the returns than for the electronic publishing that VNU acquired the company. In Europe VNU had just burned some 15 million guilders in the publishing lab VNU Database Publishing International. A grant from the European Commission, great 60.000 euro, eased the project forward. In 1984 the product was developed and trialled. A deal was made with Telecom Gold, the e-mail branch of British Telecom; Telecom Gold had an email service, couple with a database service developed by Westinghouse. The daily newsletter was to be loaded on the database service, while the headlines were mailed in a message to the subscriber. In December 1984 the newsletter was launched for Europe at the Online Conference in Hammersmith. IDB Online was the first online newsletter in Europe which was published daily. In April 1985 the newsletter was daily copied to the US newsletter service NewsNet, which worked with the same software. The IDB Online service lasted into the nineties.

Blog Posting Number: 827


Monday, July 30, 2007

Flash: Me-paper project sollicits readers

The Dutch financial daily is soliciting newspaper readers in the framework of the international Me-Paper project, which runs from April 2007 till March 2009. The project hopes to discover how to design the newspaper of the future; as part of the research readers will be involved. The readers will be asked to come to Eindhoven for interviews, group discussion about the design and testing the new designs on digital paper (iLiad, Readius and Sony e-books and PSP). The research will be handled by EC/DC (the European Centre for Digital Communication) with the HsZuyd college in the south of Holland; the Flemish research institute, responsible for the e-paper De Tijd project, IBBT will also be involved. Other participating newspapers are De Volkskrant, Financieele Dagblad, a national free paper, SP!TS, a regional newspaper, Eindhovens Dagblad and a local title, Barneveldse Krant. The project is funded by the Dutch Bedrijfsfonds, a funding institute for newspaper and magazine research;

My museum of content related artefacts (16)

1995: CD-ROM covers

CD-ROM covers show history. You can read from the covers whether they are text CD-ROMs or multimedia CD-ROMs. Up to 1992 CD-ROMs were mainly used as carriers for large textbooks, usually medical handbooks, encyclopaedias and dictionaries, or databases. After 1992 when the Multimedia PC standard was agreed upon the multimedia CD-ROMs came onto the market and the covers became more interesting. I have a CD-ROM collection of 766 artefacts of which I will show a few.

CD-ROM was based on the same production technology as audio CD. That process was already well known. But putting other data than music on the disc was another hurdle. Storing music on a disc was a simple process, but storing text on a CD-ROM and retrieving this, required more action. When the process was finished a glass disc, also called direct disc, was produced and tested. On top of the disc a label was fixed. in the case of the legal disc AROB test CD a silver label was fixed. VNU New Media had a glass disc produced of the text of their general encyclopaedia. By 1996 the glass disc disappeared as a simulation machine was developed by Elektroson.

I was personally involved in the production of the Kluwer, KIT, Nijgh and Lexitron discs. They were produced with three different software packages. The Kluwer and KIT discs were produced with Status, a database and retrieval package, developed by the UK nuclear organisation in Harwell. Both discs should be covered with gold as their production was so expensive. The software package was for a mainframe machine and adapted for PC. With memories of 600Mb it was possible to very large text databases on a disc. But Status stopped at 99.999 documents and in the case of Kluwer we processed over 100.000 documents. Before this handicap was discovered and mended we were a few cycles further. The Nijgh disc was produced with a package software, Dataware. The Lexitron disc of Van Dale Lexicografie was produced with the database package Wordsheet, developed by Walter van Rozendaal.

All kind of marketing techniques were used, like numbering the discs as was the case with a German telephone directory. The LiteRom is probably the most costly CD-ROM in Dutch history as the producer got a court case against him. The CD-ROM contained book reviews from newspapers. They could be consulted in libraries. But when the reviews were copied onto a disc, the newspapers and the reviewers started a court case against the publisher in 1992 and won the case in 2002.

From 1992 multimedia CD-ROMs were published. It gave an impulse to the sale of PCs as they were sold with bundles of multimedia encyclopaedias and other titles. This led to multimedia departments of publishing companies. For example in the Netherlands the consumer book and magazine division started a multimedia department which bought foreign productions, translated them and put them on the market. Later on it yielded productions as CD-Dom about the Duomo in Utrecht and Escher.

As broadband was not yet developed into the Mbps, CD-ROMs were the carriers for beautiful multimedia productions such as Anne Frank and Sviatlana, just to show two winners of the Europrix. Of course the first overall winner of the Europrix in 1998 was a CD-ROM production: The Ceremony of Innocence; IMHO one of the most beautiful CD-ROM productions ever (which can only be played with a Windows 95 software).

With the advent of the multimedia CD-ROMs the covers started to change. There was more artwork on the labels and on the boxes as the products had to compete with books in the bookshop and with the boring packaging of software. The nicest CD-ROM box I have in my collection is of the disc Burundi Black; the box is attractive and tactile. A soft tiger motive piece of textile is on the cover.

Blog Posting Number: 827


Sunday, July 29, 2007

My museum of content related artefacts (15)

1987: External CD-ROM player

The external CD-ROM player on the photograph was my first private CD-ROM player, a Sanyo PD1, Portable CD-ROM drive (serial number 13711231). At that time I was working for a software company, which had electronic publishing as a mission. Publishing CD-ROMs was part of the mission. But preaching is not enough to convince potential clients. So a PC plus a CD-ROM player was needed and those PCs were not in abundance on the market. There was no consumer market yet as CD-ROM was still a carrier of text rather than multimedia. If you needed a CD-ROM player in the early years you needed external top loaders, which were not exactly portable. So the next generation external CD-ROM players had portables, which could be linked to the PC with a 16 pins cable and software. By 1988 the first built-in CD-Rom players came on the market, produced by unknown companies. The company I was working for bought a BEST machine, which looked like a sewing machine with a blue screen. It worked well and it was transportable (something like 8 kilo in weight); but for demonstration purposes it was sufficient.

But the hardware was not the only worry from the start of CD-ROM. There was a problem with the software. From the beginning of CD-ROM in 1985 there was a problem with the software format. Every brand had its own format, which presented a problem to publishers. They would have to format their products according to brands. This would present an extra cost factor. As the problem was soon recognised by the industry, action was initiated. Computer companies (Apple), publishers (Elsevier Science with Philip Lord), software companies (Microsoft) and electronics manufacturers (Philips) started to talk to each other and decided to establish an industry standard to overcome this standard. And soon there was the High Sierra standard, named after the conference hotel High Sierra at Lake Tahu (USA). This industry standard became an official standard, ISO 9660. This standard gave an impulse to the CD-ROM text publishing industry.

In the first five years of CD-ROM the market was a professional information market and the products were mainly text oriented products such a reference works and databases. With the advent of internet between 1991 and 1993, the debate came to the point that publishers were asking themselves whether the future would be off-line with CD-ROM or online. A publisher like Elsevier SCience had invested heavily in CD-ROMs as the products were close to the books they used to publish.

It was only by 1989 that the consumer market was addressed, partly with text products and multimedia products. Problem was the lack of an industry standard of multimedia. By 1991 the MPC standard came about and the CD-ROM market bursted open. PCs were sold with built-in CD-ROM players and a bundle of CD-ROMs. Philips, still a computer manufacturer at that time, was ahead of the trend and started in 1989 the Headstart PC series with built-in CD-ROM player and a bundle/bookshelf of CD-ROMs. In Europe the bundle of CD-ROMs, under the name CompLex, was produced by AND in Rotterdam; one of these CD-ROMs contained a European road database.

Blog Posting Number: 826


Saturday, July 28, 2007

My museum of content related artefacts (14)

The Demo Disc of Videotex Net (photograph) was the marketing tool for the revitalised online videotex service in 1989. By 1987 it was clear that the PTT service Viditel, started in 1980, would not become a large scale service. After a lot of confusion and study a plan was put on the table under the name Infodam on January 14, 1988. A large scale videotext service with 600.000 households and 120.000 Small and Middle Sized Enterprises (SMEs) was possible, the report concluded. There were some conditions:
- the organisation should, however, differ from the old PTT service Viditel;
- no subscription to the basic service;
- use of hybrid systems, PCs and Minitels.
- trigger services like the telephone directory.
The reaction to the report varied from very positive to questionable forecasts. In the magazine I&I, I published an article under the title Infodamned (a variation on the movie Amsterdamned of Paul Verhoeven which had just launched): Viditel had been unable to attract more than 30.000 users in seven years, while Infodam shamelessly projected 720.000 users. Potential investors such as KLM Pension Fund and MIP and the promise of a grant of the Ministry of Economic Affairs stopped the discussion by using investment as a carrot and demanded one plan and one network. On December 13, 1988 Videotex Nederland was founded; even the PTT participated in the venture. By April 1, 1989 the plans of Videotex Nederland were presented and sounded with 500.000 subscribers already more realistic. All systems would be used: Viditel technology, hybrid videotext and PCs and Minitels; only the two-way technology Demos which was under development in Zuid-Limburg should first show its economic feasibility.

Organisationally Videotex Nederland followed the Kiosque model without a fixed subscription. Videotex Nederland users could phone in through a buy number and select the service wanted. PTT Telecom took care of telephone and page billing.

On September 1989 Videotex Nederland was presented as a service and started with 80.000 users, of which 30.000 in the public service of Viditel and 50.000 in the closed users groups of companies and organisation. In 1993 no less than 129 million connected minutes were clocked, used by 300.000 users. Chat boxes, relations and erotica were on top of the list, followed by telebanking and the telephone directory.

Although Videotex Nederland showed increased use, the service had competition from bulletin board services and Internet. By 1994 the management of Videotex Nederland was looking for answers: should Videotex Nederland die a natural death or should the users be forced to move over to Internet. For the management it was not easy as the shareholders wanted to stick to the name of Videotex Nederland. In the end Videotex Nederland set up the Internet service World Access. In 1996 Riens Meijer was appointed interim manager of Videotex Nederland with the brief to terminate Videotex Nederland and have World Access merge with the successful service of Planet Internet. On January 1, 1997 the public videotex service Videotex Nederland stopped. In 17 years of videotex service some 1 million people had become acquainted with the service and had tried it, but only only 350.000 people signed up to videotext in the Netherlands; Internet had attracted more than double the amount of users between 1993 and 1997.
Blog Posting Number: 825

Friday, July 27, 2007

My museum of content related artefacts (13)

Today I will present a picture blog, more illustrations than text. With the blog on electronic books I showed a few covers of products, but today I have prepared some 20 CD-i covers and discs from my CD-i collection of 88 artefacts to show the wide range of interests, Philips attempted to cover with this medium. Basically it shows that Philips did not know to select and target a market for the machine.

Encyclopedia. The Compton Encyclopaedia was an international production. The product was also bundled as a CD-ROM when a PC was bought. The Philips interactive encyclopaedia in Dutch was a translated encyclopedia, which first was published on CD-i and later (to recover the investment) on CD-ROM.

Course material. CD-i was a perfect carrier for courses. Again it was a new carrier to package courses on.

Manuals. The CD-i was also demonstrated from the beginning as a manual as it could contain video clips. The Halm company used CD-i to help engineers with troubleshooting. The company hoped to be able to save on flying time for engineers.

Catalogues. The use of CD-i as an electronic catalogue was obvious, especially as video was an extra attraction.

Product promotion. CD-i was also used to promote costly consumer products such as motors. Given the video facility CD-i could recreate the atmosphere needed for promotion like the Harley Davidson Experience.





City marketing.


Childrens discs.

News, events.

Softporn. Philips had lost the Video2000 video standard fight from JVC as it did not allow porn. With CD-i Philips did not object to softporn titles like the one of Tatjana a local Playboy centre fold.

Internet Online. This cover is of one of the last CD-i disc, when there was still hope in the Philips camp that internet would save CD-i with CD-i online.

My favourite. The trial disc Gnomes is very dear to me. The title never reached the market; it was not put on CD-ROM either. The CD-i was an electronic version of a book with drawings about gnomes by the Dutch artist Rien Poortvliet. The CD-i was interesting as it used hotspots to create an experience with young and old.

Blog Posting Number: 824


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Flash: US video usage

What do 1492 US internet broadband users view on video, according to a Pew report:

- 75% of online adults have used the internet to watch or download video
- 19% do so on a typical day.
- 37% of adult internet users say they watch or download news videos online
- 31% say they watch or download comedy or humorous videos online
- 22% say they watch or download music videos online
- 22% say they watch or download educational videos online
- 19% say they watch or download animation or cartoons online
- 16% say they watch or download movies or TV shows online
- 15% say they watch or download political videos online
- 14% say they watch or download sports videos online
- 13% say they watch or download commercials or advertisements online
- 6% say they watch or download adult videos online (can't believe this; they must have interviewed inhabitants of Salt Lake City)
- 6% say they watch some other type of video that does not fall into any of these categories.

My museum of content related artefacts (12)

1992: CD-i

Yes I have still a CD-i player and it still works. In fact I have again two players since last year, but the eldest one (the CD-i 450) is no part of the collection any longer as it was stolen in 1999 and probably sold as a game computer. With the two working players, I still have some 85 CD-i discs of all kinds, from the singer Pavarotti to Jazz, from games to soft porn and from movies to documentaries. I have also a digital collection of the 85 covers of the CD-i discs.

CD-i has been a marketing anomaly, which eventually led to the DVD. I heard about CD-i in 1986. The term was not there yet, but engineers of Philips explaining CD-ROM indicated that they were going to develop another format for television entertainment. In the meantime CD-ROM grew especially as mega book and database carrier, not yet as multimedia carrier. But the rumblings about a multimedia TV entertainment format became stronger by the end of the eighties. By 1988 Philips boss Jan Timmer had enough of the technical dabbling of his Philips engineers and put an old trustee in charge, Mr Gaston Bastiaens to speed up the process. And it worked. By October 1991 Mr Timmer was dancing in a New York discotheque to celebrate the introduction of the CD-i, one year later to be followed by the introduction in Europe (CD-i was a cultural product, so it needs a special handling region wise).

CD-i had problems from the beginning. The format was not the only format competing for market dominance. Microsoft saw the CD-ROM as multimedia carrier, but another standard, 3DO was promoted by amongst others the game developer and distributor Electronic Arts. Not a real threat was the multimedia mini-disc, Electronic Book of Sony. CD-i remained an industrial standard, only supported by Philips and Sony. But this market situation caused a problem for CD-i from the beginning: which were the strong points of its competitors and what market segments should CD-i be in. Philips started its own publishing company and simulated multimedia developers and they developed everything. Once the video module for the player was ready the assortment ranged from the singer Pavarotti to Jazz, from games to soft porn and from movies to documentaries and scientific productions. But the CD-i was no gaming machine; for that it was too slow. It was no a machine for interactive documentaries as its authoring system (Taiga) was too expensive. But as a movie machine it was a start; but Hollywood was not prepared yet.

Besides format problems there were more problems in the technology development worldwide. Internet came up as a multimedia technology for consumers. And consumers were more interested in internet than in a technology which had not yet matured. But the electronic publishers of the Philips Interactive Publishing Company did not find this a problem; with some extra technical gear they thought up CD-i Online, the CD-i holding the static information and internet presenting the timely information through a slow dial-up connection.
But this turned out to be the last efforts of CD-i market efforts.

By September 1996 Mr Boonstra, the successor to Mr Timmer, made a clear decision. Philips was in manufacturing consumer electronics and not in publishing. He abandoned CD-i, sold the spoils of the publishing company to Infogrames and moved on with developing DVD.

Tomorrow I will publish a series of CD-i covers from my collection.

Blog Posting Number: 824