Sunday, July 28, 2013

BPN 1650: Government becomes hacker

This morning I was on Dutch radio (program OVT of VPRO). Using a radio fragment as flash back in history on the subject of hacking, I was asked to comment. Exactly to date, 27 years ago, on July 28, 1986 two 17 years hacked the Dutch consumer system Viditel.

The two high school boys got into the system and were able to reach travel shops and banks. It was an innocent hack. These days sentences for hacks are high and persons behind Anonymous and Wikileaks are seen and treated as top criminals.

The interview was cut short by the actuality of the death of Barnaby Jack. This US hacker was a good guy, who loved to demonstrate how ATM spit out money at wish without using a card at hackers’ conventions. More recently he got involved in medical devices and and showed how sensitive these were. He was able to hack a pace maker and send 380 Volt through a virtual heart. He worked in computer security for companies like McAfee and IOActive.
Barnaby Jack was only eight years old when the Viditel hack took place in the Netherlands 28 July 1986. Viditel was the first online consumer system which was launched in 1980 on 7 August by the Dutch PTT, copying the British Prestel system. It used a central computer , telephone line, telephone and adapted television set for sending and receiving information.

The Viditelcomputer was a GEC 408 2 with an internal memory of 384Kb and had six disc units of 70Mb, good for 60.000 videotex pages.  The system could serve 192 concurrent users (something a present ISP would be unable to serve his clients with).

In 1986 the Viditelsystem was hacked by two boys, 17 years old. The hack was reasonably simple, no rocket science, no logarythms. You just call up people who have Viditel, tell them that you are representatives of the Dutch PTT and ask them for their access codes and passwords. The trick is still used by people representing themselves as Microsoft representatives who want to help you speeding up your PC.

It was not the first time the Viditel system was being hacked. IN 1983 it had been already hacked from London by Hugo Cornwall, alias Peter Sommer, the author of Hacker’s Handbook published in 1985. Hugo Cornwall visited an exhibition at which Prestel and Viditel were demonstrated. By carefully checking the finger movements of the British Telecom employeer, he was able to figure out the access code and password. Before the end of the day Higo Cornwall had penetrated the Dutch system. In fact it was not too difficult to crack the system, as the operator send on passwords by fax for everyone to be seen.

Hacking in the eighties
Hacking started with getting into the telephone system. One of the persons who did dthis was Susan Headley in 1977. Hacking the telephone system was partly a sport, partly a way to avoid telephone ticks tobe paid. From 1980 onwards computers were the subjects of hacks. An early example was the breaking into a live television broadcast by the BBC about computers, during which a small poem was projected on the screen.

This incident was rather innocent, but by 1984 more tseps wer made. The Hamburg based Computer Chaos Club (CCC) hacked the BTX system, the German counterpart of Prestel and Viditel. The hackers succeeded to enter a bank’s system and put in a routine which generated an access from the bank’s account to a CCC page every three seconds. As the page had been valued on 10 DM the CCC made 134.000 DM (roughly 75.000 euro). The bank had claimed before that the system was absolutely safe to use. The CCC showed that the bank’s BTX system could ruin any customer. The next day after publication the money was returned to the bank.

In the UK Prince Phillip’s e-mail box on Telecom Gold was hacked. The hackers were able to detect the safelty level of the Prince and discovered that the password consisted of the code 1234.

In the Netherlands also computers were being hacked. Jan Jacobs, a free-lance journalist, made contact from his study at home with the Government’s Institute for Health and Environment, RIVM. Jacobs was able to look into confidential medical dossiers of patients and many other data. An amateur hacker had lended the access code and password to the journalist.  

In the same year two Delft students penetrated into the network of the PTT with 14 connected computers. Names of bad paying clients, secret numbers, but also telephone numbers of private people, companies and government institutions became public. The students, encouraged by Bob Herschberg, professor operating systems, did not have bad intentions and only were willing to show the leaks in the system. Soon after this hack the Dutch government started a commission to research cybercriminality.

Criminal hackers
By the end of the eighties things became more serious. Hacking became ambivalent. You had ethical hackers and criminal hackers. It was shown by a group of hackers who accessed computers of the US government and companies for access codes and passwords. Once they had these codes they started to sell them to the Russian KGB. This was seen by Germany and the USA as cybercriminality.

In the late eighties and the beginning of the nineties criminal hacking could not be prevented. Police statements on hacking still were type on old fashioned typing machines. Even now criminal hacking is difficult to prevent as so many parties, choices and mistakes are involved. The Dutch organisation for computing the public transport ticket organisation chose for a low level security. Within no time the system was cracked. Besdies you can secure a system, but theer are always people who will transfer their codes to complete strangers. In order to fight this habit you will have to start an awreness campaign.   

Government as hacker
Hacking computer was a playful business beginning 1980. But with the banking incident in Hamburg in 1984 and the cybers espionage in 1989, hacking was beyond innocence. Hacking was more difficult to discern into ethical and criminal hacking by the day.  And as government is using various information systems, data can be compared and systems linked with each other. As such the systems can be used to spy and check on citizens. Whistle blowers like Assange, Manning and Snowdon have demonstrated that governments are becoming hackers. This will put hacking into another and higher gear of the ethical dimension: criminal and political.

If you speak Dutch, listen to the interview.

Friday, July 26, 2013

BPN 1649: Google starts e-book sales in the Netherlands (5)

Pirating of e-books in the Netherlands

Many publishers were afraid about the pirating of their e-book titles in the past. With reference to the music industry, they blatantly claimed financial damage from the pirating and download torrents. It is clear that there is piracy (copying e-books) and downloading from torrents for free. But by now there is some experience with piracy and this phenomenon is being quantified.

Pirating is not a phenomenon only related to the book publishing industry. Pirating has become a phenomenon in the music industry, movie and television industry as well as games industry. In all these sectors files have been shared, but with different experiences.

The music industry was the first industry to be confronted with piracy. When the Napster peer-to-peer file sharing was introduced in 1999, the music publishing and recording companies as well as the music collecting societies started to cry foul. But when iTunes and later Spotify came with their services it was clear that the business proposal (low prices and single or flat fee subscription) made a difference. In the Netherlands it can be said that for example Spotify with its flat fee subscription has decreased music piracy since 2008, according to the survey File sharing 2©12, Downloading from illegal sources in the Netherlands.

Interesting is also the conclusion that downloading or streaming from an illegal source usually comes  in third place. Purchasing physical formats in an offline or online store is still most common. In the Netherlands 69,0 per cent of the Dutch population had still bought at least one printed book offline or online. In the second place is free downloading or streaming of content from legal sources. In 2012 only 0,4 per cent of e-books were downloaded from an illegal source. Personally uploading purchased material is done by no more than 5 per cent of the Dutch population.

Not really surprising is the conclusion that for a substantial group of customers printed books and e-books are complimentary. Surprising is the conclusion that people who download e-books from illegal sources are also legal consumers of e-books. So legal and illegal e-book consumption is not mutually exclusive. People who are heavily in books are more inclined to download from an illegal source, but they also consume more legal content and pay for derived products.

Illegal e-book downloaders are also usually characterised as young men and less educated. The survey shows that in the case of books, the popularity of illegal content hardly declines with age up to 54. And yes men are more likely to use free legal sources and illegal sources than women. As for education no real statement can be made about that characteristic. Downloading from an illegal source , shows no significant correlation with the level of education.

By court order the file sharing site The Pirate Bay had to be blocked by the Dutch ISPs XS4ALL and Ziggo. The impression was given that by blocking the file sharing site the illegal downloading would diminish. However more than three quarters of the subscribers to XS4ALL and Ziggo had never downloaded from The Pirate Bay before the site was blocked. Of the remaining 23,8 per cent of XS4ALL and Ziggo customers about three quarters said the blockade had not affected their downloading habits and only 5,5 per cent said they now downloaded less or had stopped altogether.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

BPN 1648: Google starts e-book sales in the Netherlands (4)

The end of the e-reader

Overlooking the e-book landscape, there are some observations to be made and conclusions drawn. Two of the most dramatic conclusions are that the present e-reader will not have a long life and that the e-book will not remain just a pdf or digital word file with a black and white illustration.

The e-book started out on a mainframe computer as a digital file with words in capitals. E-books have grown along with technology of minicomputers and PCs as well as the (sub)notebooks. From 1985 CD-ROM was seen as a carrier for the digital book file. (The German software company Dataware used the slogan: Goodbye Gutenberg, Hello CD-ROM in 1987). In 1991 Sony started to  store books on minidisks and by 1997 the e-readers were launched amongst others by Franklin with the Rocket eBook. This concept has continued so far, till in 2010 the iPad and Samsung Galaxy tablet came around. This has led to a range of e-book delivery through internet:
- streaming through internet;
- storage of digital file on PCs as well as (sub)notebooks;
storage of digital files on customised e-readers;
storage of digital files on tablets.

Of these four ways of delivery the e-readers look to be losing the game in more than one sense. The e-book has on e-readers a pdf and e-pub format. The e-readers have either an e-Ink  screen or a TFT display. The stored file basically contains static information consisting of text and sometimes illustrations in black and white. In comparison with tablets which can play colour graphics, video and music, these devices are multifunctional. In comparison this means that tablets will be the winners as storage as well as streaming media for e-books (used by Dutch public libraries). So the end of e-readers is nigh.

E-readers are not only at the end of their life cycle because of their limited functionality (storage of digital file, black/white screen, special screen for reading in sunlight). But E-book will also develop from storing static information files into text files with moving graphic illustrations and movie fragments. And for this purpose tablets will be used.

In the World Summit Award competitions we have seen at least three e-book projects of the next generation to come: Hiboo, Rooftops at dawn and Oz Book.

From France comes Hiboo, books to explore. Hiboo is a collection of digital books for teenagers on the iPad. Each book is chosen according to editorial choices based on travel, adventure and fantasy. The approach is to offer tools for reading, an immersive environment, an interactive edge and community-based solutions for a new reading experience. 

From Hungary comes Rooftops at dawn - literative walk. The product, an application is a mixture of an book, a city walk and an exhibition experience – brought to you on location. The interactive urban walk provides a new way to experience classic literature as well as to experience the city as never before, along with being able to discover parts of local history embedded into a new digital framework.

From Lithuania comes the Oz Book.  “Oz Book”  is an interactive book for both children and the entire family, based on L. Frank Baum’s original novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Sixty interactive illustrations featuring beautiful scenes, vivacious music, and special sound effects let children feel the spirit of the adventurous journey to Emerald City, together with all the engaging characters. By lighting candles in the dark, the child finds the sneaky Wizard, helps Scarecrow to whisk angry crows away, or sees Emerald City with green glasses. Powered by a realistic physics engine allowing fast content accessibility, the award-winning Oz Book features a user-friendly interface, magnificent particle simulations, accelerometer and aquatic and/or fire effects, as well as a memory game and magic pictures that come to life as users touch or tilt the iPad. OzBook can be accessed in four different languages including English, Lithuanian, German and Russian.

These are three examples of what is to come. No longer static text dictates the file ; no longer technology dictates storage; but now the interactive storyline and interactive assets will offer a range of opportunities. They will range from a fiction story illustrated with interactive drawings to texts with movies. Non-fiction e-books will become apps containing a storyline with interactive multimedia assets based on a timeline. With this new push the traditional e-reader, based on e-Ink technology, will disappear, while interactive apps take their place.   

Update 27 July 2013
I just saw the rendition of a classic children's tale: The Winds in the Willow. Produced for the iPad, this classic tale has been released by UK-based innovator of digital books BeyondTheStory® as part of its +Book range. Narrator Stephen Fry introduces readers to each chapter and reads selected extracts of the adventures of Mr Toad, Ratty, Mole, and Badger. In addition, colourful animations connect the reader to the wonderful world of the riverbank and Toad Hall – a world loved by many for more than one hundred years. BeyondTheStory®, which built its unique app platform in the UK, has a string of enhanced e-books with the revised version of Kings and Queens by David Starkey, binging to life two thousand years of Britain’s monarchy; the award-winning Anne Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

BPN 1647: Google starts e-book sales in the Netherlands (3)

No e-readers for the public library
Google will offer reading e-books which will be streamed in the near future. Google will find the Dutch public libraries on its way, as they are going to lease books.

Dutch public libraries, organised in the Foundation (BNL), have been talking for a long time to set up an e-book platform. It has taken a long time to position themselves as to the technical facilities, but also to get contracts with Dutch publishers.

The Dutch public libraries will lease e-books, but these will not be downloadable and will be unfit to be read on e-readers like Kindle, Bebook, Sony Ereader and Kobo. The books will be streamed and will be readable on laptops, desktop computers and tablets.

The Dutch publishers are not too keen to support the project, afraid as they are of cannibalising their print and e-book market. So the WPG Publishers Group will offer 1000 titles by the autumn, but the titles will be at least one to ten years old. But it is a nice selection from the canon of the Dutch literature, a spokesperson for the company noted. However has already more agreements with other Dutch publishers for leasing e-books through the library network.

The Dutch publishers will get compensation from the public libraries for digitising printed books to e-books, enough to cover the initial costs and they will receive on top a variable sum, according to the number of e-books leased.  

Public libraries are famous for lending books at a low annual charge. However e-books will not be covered by this annual charge. Library members will have to pay a surcharge of 20 euro a year and will be allowed to lease for that amount 18 e-books.

Ahead of the large platform, is already offering the members of the utch public libraries a holiday app for 50 e-books, available online, smart phones and on tablets, distributed by iTunes and Google Play Store.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

BPN 1646: Google starts e-book sales in the Netherlands (2)

The big question is of course: Will the arrival of Google Play Store have much impact on the Dutch e-book market? In order to answer this question, we will have to look at the Dutch market for e-books.

Short history of e-readers: Sony EBG (1993; above left); Franklin Rocket eBook (1997; above right); iLiad (2006; below left); Bebook Neo (2010; below right). Pictures © Collection Jak Boumans

It has taken quite a while before the Dutch publishers and readers accepted e-books. The first Dutch e-books on mini-disks were produced for the Sony EBG in 1993. In 1997 the internet distribution was started. And with the sales of the e-Ink screens such as the Iliad of iRex from 2006 onwards, a new round started. By 2010 Dutch publishers started to get serious about e-books. Sony with its e-readers has been a driver in this new wave, while Kobo is now an upcoming favourite. And the turn-over of the e-books can now be measured.

The sales curve started in 2011 with 1,3 per cent of the total book sales. In 2012 e-books were good for 2,5 per cent of the total sales of physical and e-books together. In 2013 the market share is growing to 4,1 per cent.  

In this e-book market, part of the large food and non-food retailer Albert Heijn, sells 10 per cent in digital copies of all Dutch book sold. The web shop has also sold tens of thousands of Sony e-readers since May. Also the largest bookshop chain Polare (a new combination of Selexyz and the rams distributor De Slegte) registers 4,5 per cent of its online turn-over. 

However the Dutch e-book market is a dwarf in comparison with English language countries like the US, Canada and UK. France is doing slightly better than The Netherlands, while Germany is on the same level as the Dutch market. As said before France has a competitive advantage as  its VAT is in the lower bracket, much to the chagrin of the European Commission.

It should also be noted that the acceptance of e-books in a country is not a question of acceptance by the readers only. Of course there are many ink addicts and they will only get smaller in numbers over the years. But also the publishers are still hesitant. They know the trade of printed books which have a fixed price in The Netherlands as well as many European countries.  Besides they see e-books still as cannibalisation of a cultural product. And of course, they are afraid of the pirating.

So operating from Luxembourg, having the advantage of a favourable VAT bracket, and serving the rest of fragmented Europe will be interesting for international companies like Amazon, iTunes and Google Play Shop.  Local retailers can play a part in this, but they will mainly get their turn-over out of print books.

But looking at the market of e-books, there are still three questions to be answered:
- E-books from the library;
- How long will the e-book still exist;
How is the acceptance growing or translated how many e-books are pirated.

Stay tuned for the next posting. Or, if you can't wait, send in your messages about the end of the e-book and pirating.

Update 1 August 2013
Recent GfK market research shows that of all Dutch language titles only 12 per cent is available as e-book. This is most likely a reason why the e-book market in the Netherlands is slow.

In the first half of 2013 e-books had a turn-over of 3,5 per cent of the total book sales. Last month another source claimed 4,1 per cent. Last year the per centage was 2,4.
In the first half of 2013 almost 800.000 e-books were sold in the Netherlands, good for 7,6 million euro; on average 9,50 euro per e-book. More than 80 per cent came out of fiction, while only a little bit more than a quarter of all Dutch language fiction titles are available as e-book.

Monday, July 22, 2013

BPN 1645 : Google starts e-book sales in the Netherlands (1)

Google sells e-books in the Netherlands
Google was already present in Europe, mainly in the larger states like UK, France Germany and Italy. Now Google has launched Books on Google Play in nine more European countries: The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Greece, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.

The Dutch now have another channel to buy e-books from. So far they had the choice of local distributors like e-Books,, the logistics book centre CB and the channels from abroad such as Amazon and iTunes.

Foreign channels for downloading e-books are not always the favourites of the Dutch. It is a hassle with credit cards, while orders through the Dutch channels can be handled through iDEAL, a direct banking channel. Despite cooperation with CB, Google Play Store is still handling orders through credit cards from Luxembourg.

Google Play Store offers the full international portfolio but has a range of 1000 Dutch e-books through CB, which has the major Dutch publishers in its database: WPG, Lannoo, Prometheus and House of Books. Interesting is to know what percentage the Dutch publishers offer to Google Play Store and what is the difference with Amazon. Of course Google Play Store has the advantage over its competitors of it wide copyright free collection.

For Europe Google Play Store operates from Luxembourg. This has its advantages. Contrary to printed books, which are surcharged with 6 per cent Value Added Tax, e-books so far are officially surcharged with the VAT in the higher bracket. As an e-book is part of an electronic service, it is put in the higher bracket. In the Netherlands it surcharged with 23 per cent. In France and Luxembourg, the VAT is following the VAT lower bracket of respectively 5,5 per cent and 3 per cent, much to the chagrin of the European Commission. So, Google Play Store operating from Luxembourg, is benefitting from this low VAT rate, as well as the Dutch customers having compared the prices of Dutch language e-books. A book like NW by Zadie Smith was for sale at for 11,99 euro, but is available at the Google Play Store for 8,15 euro.

The books can be read in Google apps for Android and iOS. Besides they can be downloaded and stored in e-readers, PC,  tablets and mobile telephones. Google does not offer yet leasing books and reading books through Google. Once offered, you will need support for your browser from JavaScript. Google Play Store will also lease books in the future.

First negative comments have come on the usability. The American company does not understand the differences in languages and represents them indiscriminately in search results and listings; so you will find a list of results with French, Dutch and German results ad random. Also sorting on price is impossible for the time being.

With the arrival of Google Play Store e-book distribution channel a more competitive climate will arrive among the international (read US) players: Amazon, iTunes and Google. They all have differentiated USPs, products and prices. So it will be interesting to see which store will become the European darling. Local distributors will have their local advantages, but will have hard competition when it is for foreign e-books.
Big question will be: will Google Play Store have any impact on the Dutch e-book market? Stay tuned for our next posting.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

5 more days to apply for the World Summit Youth Award.... ‪#‎TakeAction‬ ‪#‎WSYA
Last days to apply to the World Summit Youth Award 2013. Submit your projects before July 15th and win a trip to Sri Lanka. #TakeAction

Sunday, July 07, 2013

BPN 1644: The Switch to Internet in The Netherlands (5)

How did the sudden switch to internet come about

Since the beginning of new media in the Netherlands at least five online technologies had been introduced and by 1997 only internet combined with e-mail had survived as proper online media, disregarding the one way television Teletekst service and CD-ROM as packaged bandwidth.


Illustration 2: Online technologies available in the Netherlands from 1980 onwards (Illustration produced by Chris Driessen Desktopping; Leiden, The Netherlands)

Commercial videotext services from 1980 till 1997 had only attracted 350.000 occasional users; however internet gathered almost a million users by the end of 1996. And within less than five years only three online technologies were left of the six, with only internet and e-mail as two way technologies. The technologies had gone through a wormhole, a term used in the Startrek TV series for a disturbance of the time/space-continuum.

Illustration 3: The wormhole of  technologies in The Netherlands (Illustration produced by Chris Driessen Desktopping; Leiden, The Netherlands)

So the question can be posed: what did internet have that videotext for example had not? Was it the technology of internet, the organisation of the services or the demography of the internet population or a combination?

- Technology of internet. When internet was introduced by 1991 the technology was not embraced by the telephone companies. They were busy promoting the seven layer OSI model. Internet technology however was originally embraced by university computer centres. So why did it spread fast? One of the explanations could be the disruptive technology theory by Clayton Christensen[i] . This Harvard professor observed that new technologies could wipe out great existing. He posed that big firms like IBM developed new technologies in line with the wishes of the clients. This leads to incremental and costly innovation. When another firm comes on to the market with a technology in the same field but more limited and less costly, a switch might set in. IBM in the seventies and beginning eighties was known for its room filling mainframes. It introduced in 1981 the PC which started to cannibalise the mainframe market. But also other companies started to develop PC’s and won the battle from IBM, which eventually sold its PC business to the Chinese company Lenovo. The same development started to show with internet. While the settled telephone companies were busy with their OSI seven layer model, the academic world was busy with their TCP/IP protocols, which turned out to be cheaper and more practical. So by 1993 TCP/IP started to succeed the OSI seven layer model on the Dutch academic network. From 1995 TCP/IP became a common standard in telecom.

- Organisation of the providers and services. The first online systems such as ASCII databases and videotex services started in the strict hierarchical systems. Dumb and intelligent monitors were linked to a mainframe or mini-computer. Then the distributed systems came en vogue and Bulletin Board Systems started to spread among amateurs. This lead to community usage of the BBS’s. One of the most famous ones was The Well, The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link, best known for its fora, which was started in 1985 by Steward Brand and Larry Brilliant. The organisation of the BBS’s was not hierarchical, but more directed to virtual communities. Howard Rheingold , the guru of the virtual community, was in fact triggered by The Well. The free organisation of the The Well mirrors the later organisation of the internet. The Well happened in the USA. To a certain extent, a less hierarchical organisation of an information service could be seen in the French variant of the videotext systems. The Teletel/Minitel organisation was less hierarchical than the British Prestel organisation, which was being run by the British Post Office (BPO). The BPO controlled every aspect of the Prestel service from the network, the technology, the information service, the keyword administration, the marketing, the collection of subscriptions and fees and the marketing. The French PTT with Teletel/Minitel was more a network and technology provider, an information provider of the telephone directory as well as financial administrator. An information provider had more freedom in terms of running and marketing his service. - ASCII databases and videotext services could be seen as the digital equivalent of the printed media: information was going from the publisher to the reader. With internet this changed to interactivity between the publisher and reader and users amongst themselves.

- Demography. From 1980 there were two types of online services in The Netherlands: ASCII databases and videotext services. ASCII databases were seen as for business and scientific professionals. Videotex was seen as a Volkswagen, for traders and consumers. BBS’s were for computer amateurs. The number of new media users grew slowly, but with the CD-ROM it became interesting contentwise to buy a PC . However online users did not grow proportionally to the number of PC users.
On the other hand Dutch students were using PCs more than ever and in computer courses were required to have a PC of their own. Besides the Dutch academic network SURFnet started to play a role in teaching and research with free access to the network and network resources such as e-mail and access to libraries. They experienced problems when they finished their study and got a job in society. They no longer had automatically free access. So they became a thriving force to link to internet for business and in their private environment. With information providers such as XS4ALL, Euronet, Planet Internet and World Online coming up from 1994 onwards a new generation of experienced users was born. By 1996 the milestone of the first 1 million users was reached.  In 1995 internet users between 20-70 years formed 48 per cent of the internet users and 71 per cent of all internet users had online experience of less than 1 year.

Conclusions of this archaeological work can only be that:
a.      Internet was a disruptive technology for ASCII databases, videotext services and BBS’s;
b.      Contrary to the hierarchical organisation of ASCII databases and videotext services, internet
stimulated virtual communities;
c.      The academic environment trained students in the use of digital media and particularly internet.
d.      Dutch business and consumers caught on in the slipstream;
e.      It is clear that internet was a disruptive technology, which crept in through the universities and especially the university network and prepared students as precursors of internet for Dutch society.

[i] Christensen, Clayton (1997), The Innovator’s Dilemma. Harvard Business School Press.

Instalment 1: The Switch to Internet in The Netherlands

Saturday, July 06, 2013

BPN 1643: The Switch to Internet in The Netherlands (4)

The sudden silent internet switch

However the developing new media industry sector hardly noticed, that internet slipped into the Dutch online scene through the universities. The academic network SURFnet had linked to the NSFnet, the American academic Network and administrator of internet, in 1989. Business in The Netherlands got access to internet by 1991 and in 1992 no less than 290 companies had registered.  By 1993 consumers got access through the ISP XS4ALL. By the end of 1996 there were more than one million internet users and the users of existing online technologies such as ASCII databases, videotext services, e-mail services and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) switched over to internet. By January 1st, 1997 the Dutch new media had lost their sustainability and digital media took over. In less than three years, between 1994 and 1997 internet, combined with e-mail had superseded new media such as ASCII databases, videotext services, separate e-mail services and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS).

Internet providers for consumers

One of the first consumer internet provider was XS4ALL, which offered its consumer services from May 1, 1993. The company used the Dutch railway telecom infrastructure to link up the broadcasting city of Hilversum and their Amsterdam offices.  In 1994 the company in co-operation with the social centre De Balie started Amsterdam project The Digital City, held in the framework of municipal elections. The project made internet immensely popular in a short time. This was the signal to start up internet services. In the same year the ISP EURONET*INTERNET was launched with posters on all Amsterdam billboards. The year after the ISP Planet Internet was started by publishers and KPN, the former state telecom company; it would grow very fast to become the largest ISP. In the slipstream of the success of Planet Internet, the ISP World Online started up. By January 1, 1997 Internet had more than one million users, while the number ASCII and videotex users drastically went down.

Illustration 1: The growth of internet users in The Netherlands and the decline of videotex users.

The unexpected switch

From 1990 till 1997 the Dutch online world was in confusion. On the one hand the online information services were busy to professionalise, but at the same time they did not see internet coming up. While the producers of ASCII databases, videotext services and CD-ROM products were busy understanding the differences between the various technologies, seeking the proper markets and in many cases busy with surviving, internet slipped into The Netherlands through the academic world. The academic network SURFnet gave access to the employees of universities and all students, wherever they were. Once students had graduated they expected access  in their first job. It stimulated employers to link up to internet and they did. In 1996 Internet got a stimulus, when Microsoft (at last) launched an internet browser. By giving the Internet Explorer away for free, Microsoft overtook the existing free browser Netscape.

Between 1994 and 1997 the confusion about the technologies (ASCII, videotext, e-mail, BBS and internet) was complete. But year by year it became clear that internet was going to be the winner. Words as World Wide Web, server and e-mail became common words.  Internet subscribers increased fast, while ASCII, videotext and e-mail subscribers numbers went down. In less than three years the number of internet subscribers tripled the highest number of videotext users ever.

Instalment 5: How did the sudden switch to internet come about

Friday, July 05, 2013

BPN 1642: The Switch to Internet in The Netherlands (3)

Commercial online services and offline products

The year 1980 was a very prosperous year for the new media in The Netherlands as Kluwer commercialised its legal database and the Dutch PTT launched its videotex service under the name Viditel. Both services were the first commercial online services in The Netherlands. They grew slowly but also experienced a slowdown, when CD-ROM for textual and numerical databases was introduced. 

Database services
On April 1, 1980 Kluwer launched its legal database. Predictions were made about the number of its users. Kluwer knew the legal market for its print products and could make a cautious calculation. With 4000 lawyers distributed over 1200 offices, let alone the government officials, the prospects were good; certainly with the future lawyers who would use the assistance of a computer. Making it a profitable service was a long haul, but possible[i].

The launch of the Kluwer Legal Database, triggered the production of a number of databases. When in 1988 the first inventory of online databases, either originally produced or foreign online databases sold in The Netherlands, was produced, the amount came up to 60[ii]. Attempts were made to establish information services, nationally and internationally. In 1982 Building & Townplanning, started working in the construction sector; however the service went bankrupt in 1995. In the same year the publisher ICU started up the international information service Samsom Data Service with maritime databases MARNA and SHIPDES and other databases by Dutch and foreign information providers. The service was killed in 1984 due to the economic climate. In 1990 another attempt was made to start up a national information service  by merging the national governmental computer centre to be privatised RCC with the private database service IVEV, bringing governmental databases together with business databases such as marketing, environmental and news ones into the Informatiebank. But by 1994 the plug was pulled out due to the economic recession and the absence of a feeling about internet.

E-mail services

The ASCII information services usually had no e-mail service alongside. E-mail services were exploited as separate services. Computer companies like IBM and GEC had e-mail services, also for third parties such as Easylink and Low Cost Linking. The Dutch PTT also launched an e-mail service, based on Dialcom software. This service had e-mail software aboard, but also database software to store newsletters. The Dutch PTT experimented in 1984 with the service named Memocom within its own organisation and with journalists reporting from the European Soccer Championship. By 1987 commercial initiatives were developed such as a newsletters for Dutch people abroad, which was distributed by fax,  and a daily computer newsletter by VNU, following the example of its sister publication IDB Online in London .

Videotex figures

Viditel was launched on August 7, 1980. Before its launch the project manager Ruiten had already forecasted a 100.000 subscribers by 1985. Asked on what research this figure was based, he pointed to the figures for the German equivalent Bildschirmtext. This service was predicted to have 1 million users by 1985; given that the population of Germany was five times the population of The Netherlands, the amount of subscribers would be 200.000, yet he chose the safe side of 100.00. But with no market experience in the online field the figures turned out to be completely wrong. After the first experimental year only 3.000 subscribers had joined the service and 130 information providers were presenting their products and services on the service. The television manufacturers got blamed, the PTT blamed the information providers and the PTT was broadcasted too optimistic figures, while the press saw the service as one big advertisement board without distinctive content.

It was quite clear that a large scale base of subscribers had to be created by other technological infrastructures and trigger services such as the telephone directory. As The Netherlands was one of the densest cabled countries in Europe, a solution was sought in two-way cable.  A long-term experiment was created in the south of The Netherlands, the South-Limburg project, with the support of governments and VNU, but it failed miserably. A third attempt was made in 1988, which resulted in the service Videotex Nederland. Usually telecom technology as well as a hybrid technology (telephone line for commands and cable for information) were used, while users were not forced to take out subscription. The new marketing had some success; at its height in 1994 the amount of occasional users reached 350.000. But from that year onwards the user figures diminished.


But also the online technologies got competition from CD-ROM from 1985 onwards. The silver disc turned out to be packaged bandwidth, an information carrier for textual and numerical databases with a low updating rate. Databases which had been online could now be exploited on a disc, which was cheaper than keeping them online. The Royal Tropical Institute distributed the agricultural database TROPAG online. But once CD-ROM was available it had an easier distribution worldwide on disc. And also Kluwer started to experiment with CD-ROM. The legal publisher saw possibilities to bring down the costs for the service by combining online for the timely updated information and the disc for the archived information. An April 1989 inventory of CD-ROMs produced in The Netherlands listed 27 productions[iii]. By 1997 CD-ROM had proven to be a packaged bandwidth solution and disappeared as a textual information carrier.


By 1989 the new media had developed to a developing industry sector. Some 185 companies were full time active in new media and companies were specialising, amongst others in video and audio. Outlets for CD-ROMs were found through petrol stations and bookshops.  Around these firms other supply companies sprang up such as marketing and conference companies. Also education picked up new media; in 1988 the first course interactive media designer was started at an applied university. And insight into the industry sector and its revenue capacity came from the first marketing research exercises; by 1994 the turnover of the new media industry sector, exclusively of internet, was 360 million guilders ( 175 million euro).

[i][i] Boumans, Jak (1982): Geen eind aan boeken – wel aan het zoeken. Boekblad 7/5/1982
[ii] Boumans, J.M. and C.N.A. Molenaar (1988): Marketing Informatie Systemen en Elektronische Informatie Bestanden. Self-publishing.
[iii] NVI/Electronic Media Reporting (1989), Lijst van optische media projekten. NVI.

Instalment 4: The sudden silent internet switch