Wednesday, August 27, 2014

BPN 1687: Heritage of the digital ice age

On August 17, 1982 the first audio compact disc was pressed, presenting the music album Visitors by Abba. The success of the audio CD would set the development of various data CDs in motion such as the CD-ROM, CD-I electronic book, DVD and Blu-ray. By 2004 CD media were not en vogue any longer as internet had taken over thanks to the growing capacity of broadband.

In 1984 CD-ROM started to battle Pre-internet online on storage capacity, defeating the slow telecom speed and small storage capacity of the PC’s hard disc. But by 2004 this battle was over as internet, broadband capacity and storage capacity were on the rise. The era between 1982 and 2004 had proven to be an ice age in online.

Looking back at this ice age, the question can be asked whether there are still left any worthwhile digital heritage gems of that period. Of course it's not so long ago, so there must be some digital artifacts around. And the next question is whether they are representative for that digital ice age and worthwhile to be saved?

In order to talk about artefacts an inventory will have to be produced. In the ninenties the TFPL CD-ROM and multimedia CD-ROM Directory was published by MacMillan. It gave an international overview of CD Media titles. The directory has not been  available after 1996. Of course a national library and National Archive might have done some inventory work or even collected some artefacts. In the Netherlands the Royal Library has an e-Depot and the National Archive has a small collection, it seems. The question is of course what did they actively collect. In the Netherlands Electronic Media Reporting compiled the List Optical Media  in the beginning of the nineties and published a quarterly report for two years in cooperation with the Dutch Association of Information Service Providers (NVI). These lists are currently being processed for the database of Collection Jak Boumans. In short, there will be a few snapshots available, but not a systematic index to optical media.

Which artifacts are worthwhile of collecting as pieces of heritage? There are four criteria to explain:
a Technology: videodisc, CD-ROM, CD-I, electronic book, DVD and Blu-ray;.
b. Environment: scientific / business, consumer, cultural;
c. Language: native, foreign, multilingual;
d. Type of heritage: born digital, digitized heritage.

Ad a. Technology. In technology, all artifacts from videodisc to DVD-ROM interesting. CD-i Video, DVD Video and Blu-ray are not interesting since these media usually optical carriers for film. Most interesting are the productions which can be played out on different machines. Elsevier Science produced Interactive Anatomy as CD-I and CD-ROM versions on one disc.

Ad b. Environment. Would be a minimum in each of the three sectors, a minimum of production need to be in order to show how the media were like in various environments. With a few examples preserved Interestingly, with this criterion, the discs produced for the cultural sector by publishers and museums.

Ad c. Language. Important in the selection is language. In a national language the native languaue will have preference over a foreign language. In some cases combination of the native language with a foreign language can be made. But a CD production can also be classified as national heritage, even when a foreign language has been used on the disc. In the Netherlands for example the discs published by Elsevier Science could be classified as national heritage. 

Ad d. Type heritage. Digitisation started out from copying text productions. For example, the first mini-discs with electronic books produced were mostly directories and dictionaries. Instead of searching through the alphabet, search engines had been built in these productions. This is digitized heritage. Later these text productions were embellished with photographs, drawings, videos and sound clips. Although DVD Video is not so interesting, the 1995 trial production of ODME DVD with the film The Netherlands by Bert Haanstra remains unique as a precursor of DVD and Blu-ray.

(l above) Spectrum Encyclopedia, published by Spectrum Publishers in 1995; (r above) Interactive Encyclopedia, published by Philips Interactive, 1996; (l under) Encarta Encyclopedia, published by Elsevier Winkler Prins in 1998; (© photos Jak Boumans Collection; CDs owned Jak Boumans Collection)

When multimedia came en vogue the number of born-digital heritage artefacts increased. In science multimedia was by Elsevier Science for an interactive approach to anatomy. Moreover, some CD-ROM productions have become precursors of  internet sites like Escher Interactive. Even combinations of online and CD-ROM were made. For the exhibition of Hieronymus Bosch in Museum Boijmans Van Beunigen in Rotterdam in 2001 an online website ( was developed by ZappWork and on a CD-ROM for schools a game by V2.

(l above) Interactive Anatomy, published by Elsevier Science; (r above) Escher Interactive, published by A. W. Bruna; (l under) Hieronymus Bosch, a school edition issued as part of the exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in 2001; (© photos Jak Boumans Collection; CDs owned Jak Boumans Collection)
The examples above are CD productions which could qualify according to the criteria above for Dutch heritage artefacts of the digital ice age.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

4 Dutch submissions made the shortlist: see

Sunday, August 17, 2014

BPN 1686: Packaged bandwidth

Presentation of the audio CD by Mr Sinjou holding up a vinyl record and a CD (© J. Sinjou)
On August 17, 1982 the first audio CD, Visitors by Abba, was pressed at the Philips factory in Langenhagen (Germany). The invention of the CD marked a step for the music industry, but a larger step for the information industry. For the music industry, the introduction of the audio CD was a switch from analogue to digital and a quality step with superior sound quality, scratch-free durability and portability of the product. But the audio CD also meant innovation in the digital entertainment industry, which ultimately led to the launch of the DVD and Blu-ray successor. And along the way, people were  taught multimedia skills.
Philips CD player  (© Philips)
Philips and Sony were voluntary partners in the CD project. After the videodisc was rejected in favour of the VHS videotape by the consumer, the two consumer electronics manufacturers sat together with their engineers to design and specify a new optical audio disc. The initial storage capacity of the disc targeted a hour of audio content and a disc diameter of 115 mm. Eventually a span of 74 minutes was set, enough to listen to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Regarding the size of the hole in the disk the engineers easily agreed: it would be as big as a Dutch dime coin. In 1980 the new standard of the CD was recorded in the Red Book.

Box cover (©  photograph Collection Jak Boumans, CD property of Collection Jak Boumans)
In the wake of the success of the optical audio disc Philips and Sony developed in 1984, a compact disk for data, the CD-ROM (Compact Disc - Read Only Memory). The disk had a storage capacity of 600Mb and became an attractive substitute for online. The CD-ROM was in fact packaged bandwidth on the one hand and a mega book on the other hand.

CD-ROM technology proved to be a temporary disruptive technology. In particular, the scientific online information viewed the phenomenon CD-ROM with the necessary suspicion. These services consisting of primarily textual information, especially ASCII databases, saw the optical disk as an attack on their services. Would online be for latest information and CD-ROM for less timely information?

Cover (©  photograph Collection Jak Boumans, CD property of Collection Jak Boumans)
But more happened between 1985 and 1997: multimedia was first introduced in 1988. Of course, there were already opportunities to bring graphic work, photographs and music online, but there were no standards and in many cases the capacity of the telephone line was very limited. The CD-ROM appeared to be the new carrier for a combined stream of text, image and sound. The CD-ROM just filled the lack of bandwidth. Thus, the CD-ROM played a key role in the introduction of multimedia and interactivity. Then in 1990, a multimedia standard for PCs (MPC) was adopted, making CD-ROM the carrier for a combined stream of text, image and sound.

This led to a technological format struggle within the data compact disc world. About the CD-ROM format the industry was quick to agree; in an unusually short time for standardization procedures an industry standard was created (High Sierra), followed by ISO standard 9660. But with the potential of multimedia consumer electronic manufacturers saw market opportunities for living room products. Most had little chance of survival.

Box cover (©  photograph Collection Jak Boumans, CD property of Collection Jak Boumans)
The greatest confusion in the multimedia formats was created by Philips. Philips started to develop the compact disc interactive (CD-I) as a format that was to bring living room entertainment such as movies, games and documentaries. Philips CD-i set up even a publishing company for consumer titles. At the same time Sony created the electronic book, consisting of an electronic reader and a mini-disc of 200Mb. But the interest worldwide was not great and by 1966 the product was off the market again, except for Japan.

A prototype DVD as movie carrier with The Netherlands, a movie by Bert Haanstra, 1996 (©  photograph Collection Jak Boumans, CD property of Collection Jak Boumans)
The CD-ROM, however, did not really disappear from view. The commercial CD-ROM products, text or multimedia did as the bandwidth did increase fast.  CD-ROM is still a carrier of software and personal archive material. The CD-i eventually became the forerunner of the Digital Video Disc (DVD). By 2000 CD media tapered off as online came back into full force with the introduction of the Internet for consumers. Interactive games, movies and music were distributed through internet.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

BPN 1685: Cloud Chamber launched

Today the massive multiplayer story game Cloud Chamber will be released, after four years of hard work by a Danish team. The game is a innovative mix of story explanation and collaborative investigation.
In the game the investigations of a young scientist Kathleen Petersen are followed, who works in the Petersen Institute, one of Europe’s most prestigious centres. While investigating the suspicious circumstances of her mother’s death, Kathleen discovers a string of revelations about her father, the institute and the existence of communicative rhythms in the fabric of space. Soon she is faced with an impossible choice between loyalty to her family and a duty to pass on what seems to be a mysterious warning to mankind.
In Cloud Chamber players work together to unravel a mystery of murder, music and astrophysics. They navigate through a series of 3D datascapes and film fragments, starring Gethin Anthony (Games of Thrones) and Jesper Christensen (Quantum of Solace). Players collect nodes of information and discuss them with other players. As they progress, players piece together what actually happened from fragments of found film footage, science journals, video diary entries, actual space footage and astrophotography. Only by working together with other players the truth about Kathleen’s parents and the universe can be uncovered.

So far the press release. Why do I draw attention to the game? So far, no one has been able to recognise a fanatic gamer in me. In the short description and the trailer, however, I see basic elements of suspense. And I am pretty sure that the game will be most interesting, given its creative director: Christian Fonnesbech. I met him in 2002 as a colleague on the Europrix jury in Salzburg. I remember him explaining the suspense graph in a movie: tell the story in summary in some five to ten minutes and then start to elaborate on the main story and the sub themes. Up to that point Christian Fonnesbech was a producer of interactive entertainment, advertising and educational content. He has directed and written for TV, created short films and worked as a script consultant for both TV and film companies. In Denmark he was one of the early cross media pioneers, combining internet with television and new papers ads for a bank. From 2000-2002, he co-founded and ran the interactive content studio Sjuzet and managed Congin from 2003 onwards. Since 2012 Christian Fonnesbech is creative director and partner in  Investigate North and worked on the development of the game Cloud Chamber for four years.

Convince yourself and have a look at the trailer and an earlier trailer.
The game will be available by Steam or digital distributors and cost 19,99 euro.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

BPN: 1684: WWW code in the open 23 years ago

© 2003, Jak Boumans Collection

On August 6, 1991 Tim Berners-Lee brought the www code into the open. Here is the relevant document:

In article <> (Nari  Kannan) writes:
>    Is anyone reading this newsgroup aware of research or development efforts in
> the
>    following areas:
>     1. Hypertext links enabling retrieval from multiple heterogeneous sources of
> information?
The WorldWideWeb (WWW) project aims to allow links to be made to any information anywhere. The address format includes an access method (=namespace), and for most name spaces a hostname and some sort of path.
We have a prototype hypertext editor for the NeXT, and a browser for line mode terminals which runs on almost anything. These can access files either locally, NFS mounted, or via anonymous FTP. They can also go out using a simple protocol (HTTP) to a server which interprets some other data and returns equivalent hypertext files. For example, we have a server running on our mainframe( in WWW syntax) which makes all the CERN computer center documentation available. The HTTP protocol allows for a keyword search on an index, which generates a list of matching documents as annother virtual hypertext document. If you're interested in using the code, mail me.  It's very prototype, but available by anonymous FTP from It's copyright CERN but free distribution and use is not normally a problem. The NeXTstep editor can also browse news. If you are using it to read this, then click on this: <> to find out more about the project. We haven't put the news access into the line mode browser yet. We also have code for a hypertext server. You can use this to make files available (like anonymous FTP but faster because it only uses one connection). You can also hack it to take a hypertext address and generate a virtual hypertext document from any other data you have - database, live data etc. It's just a question of generating plain text or SGML (ugh! but standard) mark-up on the fly. The browsers then parse it on the fly.  The WWW project was started to allow high energy physicists to share data, news, and documentation. We are very interested in spreading the web to other areas, and having gateway servers for other data.  Collaborators welcome! I'll post a short summary as a separate article.  
Tim Berners-Lee                      
World Wide Web project                        Tel: +41(22)767 3755     
CERN                                        Fax: +41(22)767 7155
1211 Geneva 23, Switzerland                 (usual disclaimer)