Tuesday, March 12, 2013

BPN 1630: The Next Day

The singer David Bowie recently brought his latest record on the market. The title: The Next Day. David Bowie is getting old and eschatological, waiting for the next day, longing for the green grass at the other side of life, I guess.

But at the beginning of the eighties he was very forward, as I found out. I was working for the Dutch publishing company VNU in London. The company had just started a new subsidiary in the UK, specialising in computer publications. Besides printed magazines the company had the intention to start up databasepublishing. It bought a company in Bournmouth with reference books on hardware and software. These books were still produced in an old fashioned way. So new ways had to be developed to put them in a database and produce them more efficiently and eventually put them online. This was still a decade before the start of internet.

I was asked by the management to engage in this development. It meant frequent flights to London and many talks with pioneers in the database and online publishing field such as Mr Patrick Gibbons and David Worlock. They were also wrestling with setting up databases and marketing online services to people who had touched a computer, forget searching for information.

One day I was asked for dinner by a colleague. I was introduced to Don, an American freelancer, who had an assignment to find applications for a new e-mail system of ITT Dialcom. At that time e-mail and online databases were separated. If you wanted to move from e-mail to a database, you had to log on again. The ITT Dialcom system was new in two aspects: the e-mail system was store and forward and the e-mail system was configured back to back with a database system. Don was working on a TRS-80 Model 100, one of the first light weight portables. He was linking up subsidiaries of the worldwide conglomerate with e-mail and a management database for efficiency.

But I also discovered that he was exploring business systems for other enterprises, but he had also rock music bands as clients. He treated this information confidentially. But one day he let slip that one of his clients was David Bowie. In 1983 this singer was reaching a new peak in his popularity and commercial success with Let's Dance, with songs like Modern Love and China Girl. By 1984, Bowie went on the Serious Moonlight Tour. For this world tour Don had developed a report system from the preparation team, the roadies to the stage team with all kind of functionalities such as e-mail and spread sheet system. (Today people would say that system worked in a cloud, given the 32K internal memory of the TRS-80 Model 100). The tour lasted six months with a connected crew. And every time when the last note of the David Bowie concert had sounded, the management knew exactly the revenues of the particular concert and of the whole tour concert so far.

(The contact eventually also worked out for VNU London as in 1984 the company started to publish online the first daily newsletter in Europe, called IDB Online, a blog posting avant la lettre for the computer industry, on the ITT Dialcom system, used by the Telecom Gold service of British Telecom.)

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