Sunday, May 08, 2005

Do blogs have a history?

This week I started my blog. I had attempted blogs before with some friends, but it did not feel comfortable. So I decided to go solo and report on my professional life. Funny enough you start to realise that even an international personal professional blog has its limitations. You can for example not expound on local Dutch feuds with ministries and other institutes, as these are too specifically Dutch. For foreigners this all would sound Double Dutch. So I guess every blog has limitations and I am going to make the best of Buziaulane.

Another thought crossed my mind. Blogging might be fashionable at present, but do blogs have a history? In fact I think they do. I will have to go back into my personal history. I started blogging in 1981, but nothing is left of the material, except for a cryptic reference. In 1980 I started to work for VNU. You will not believe it, but at that time the multinational VNU was a national publishing company, which was just buying its first foreign company outside The Netherlands and Belgium. But they did their homework and started up a greenhouse for electronic publishing with the fancy name VNU Database Publishing International (abbreviated VNU DPI). I was appointed content manager, but that is projecting back. At DPI I learned the benefits of e-mail, except that there were not many people to have an e-mail exchange with.

But as I like to write, I got in touch with the Online Inc. company in the States, which started to publish my articles about the European online scene. In 1981 the editor-in-chief Jean-Paul Emard thought up the Online Chronicle, the first electronic news journal for the Online Industry, which were published fortnightly. The Online Chronicle served as an in-between publication for the magazines Online and Database (which are now incorporated in Information Today, a subsidiary of VNU Inc.!). Every two weeks I sent an article to Jean-Paul and later to June Thompson. They checked my English, formatted the article and loaded it on the host Dialog, which was a spin off of airplane manufacturer Lockheed. These days you would load it on the server and Dialog is these days a subsidiary of the Canadian publishing company Thomson. I guess that these writing would qualify as blogs these days. However nothing is left of this electronic publication. The Online Chronicle was removed from the host after five years. And the only cryptic reference by Reva Basch that I could find with the help of Google was on a site of Information Today, saying “1981 Online, Inc.'s Online Chronicle Goes Public With Dialog Information Services...First Electronic News Journal for the Online Industry.” I guess this is the fate of all blogs in the future.

I had learned a trick in electronic publishing, which I could use some years later. In 1983, when I was still working for VNU, I was seconded with VNU BPL in London as a project manager for electronic publishing. VNU BPL had just bought a software directory and wanted to apply database publishing in order capitalise on the investment. It became a project, which was very hard to manage as some people found out. One of the other products of VNU BPL was IDB, the Industry Daily Bulletin, a newsletter of two yellowish A4s which, as the title says, was published daily and intended for the computer industry. Just a publication, an outsider would say. It told the industry what kind of deals were made in the UK and Europe (80 pct UK news and 20 pct European news). But IDB was a critical product. At that time the Royal Mail was more on strike than delivering letters. This meant that in the UK the newsletters were not delivered and in the States the newsletters arrived a month after publication. So I suggested to turn the printed version into a daily electronic newsletter. But the management was weary of the idea. The managers published magazines and books about the computer industry, but did not touch a computer, not even with a barge pole. So I thought up a trick to convince management. Together with my French friend Sotires Eleftheriou we put together an international project of electronic newsletters: a daily newsletter on the computer industry and a daily newsletter on the new media industry. This we handed in with the European Commission for a grant. And we got it in the framework of the DOCDEL programme. With some 60.000 ECUs as the euro was called at that time, we split the money and started to work out the project. During the Online Conference in 1984 VNU IDB Online was launched as the first European daily newsletter on Telecom Gold, a BT Business service, run by Robin Oliphant. The electronic newsletter was an item of three minutes in the BBC computer programme in February 1985. Jack Scofield of The Guardian devoted an article to it as did the Dutch newspaper NRC-Handelsblad through their London based correspondent Marc Chavannes. Half a year later the newsletter was also available on the American host Newsnet, a syndicator of newsletters, which made it into the Internet era, but it sadly did not have enough financial stamina to survive. In the first year there was no hiccup in the delivery. For VNU it was its first experience with a daily electronic newsletter. I guess by now it has become a routine for this publishing company turned into an information company.

Looking back, I think that The Online Chronicle and IDB Online were attempts on blogging avant la letter. So I consider myself back into familiar business and hope that I can keep up the daily routine of commenting on the news and other events.

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