BBC Domesday Reloaded
Long before Wikipedia existed, or Facebook, or even the Internet Archive existed. Back when computer memory was measured not in gigabytes, or even megabytes, but in kilobits. Before the Internet was really available and X.25 networks and X.400 messaging ruled the world, there was a project to take a snapshot of daily life in Britain.
Launched in 1986, the 'Domesday Project' -- a collaboration between the BBC, Philips, Logica and Acorn computers -- was a multimedia archive containing text, images and video. This was probably the first occurrence of 'User Generated Content' that we are so used to these days with the internet.
The project was to mark the 900th anniversary of the Domesday Book, an 11th century census of England and was compiled by schoolchildren across the country.
I was not personally involved with this (I was 9 at the time and living abroad) however I was very fortunate in that a few year later I went to a school in the UK that could afford to buy the "Doomsday Player" which was a modified Laserdisc player which connected to a BBC micro with a SCSI interface and some custom hardware and used a trackball to navigate.
I remember using the system and navigating around the UK and reading and seeing what goes on around the country. Finding out what other schoolkids were doing.
The project divide the whole of the UK up into 2x3 mile blocks (called D-blocks) and photos and articles were written for each of those blocks. The articles were about the ordinary goings on, and may have seemed mundane at the time, but the entire point was to capture a snapshot of life at that time, which future generations can look back on. Being written by schoolchildren they often pick up on elements that adults might not comment on.
An example entry for central Bristol:
I woke up at 7.30 a.m. Mum said we were going to go down to the Bristol Docks after dinner to see the Power Boat racing. When I was dressed, I went to call for Sharon, my friend. We went down to the market. She bought a red coat costing £19.99. I bought a dress costing £9.99. We went home and had dinner - pork, potatoes and cabbage. After dinner we went to the Docks. All the boats were zooming round the course, going really fast. It was very good. Afterwards we went to the Lifeboat Museum to see all the old boats. When we got home it was 5 p.m. I went out on the playing field till 8 p.m. then I came in, had a piece of toast, watched "Murder She Wrote" on T.V. till 9 p.m., then I went to bed and read till 10 p.m.
I know there has been issues regarding preservation of the data, as the discs were a non-standard format and that the data on them was also non-standard (this was before JPEG existed, remember).
Well eventually, the BBC have been able to extract much of the data and now made the project available online as the Domesday Reloaded. There is a fantastic short video about the Doomsday project which is well worth watching, including some nice retrospectives of the people original involved.
Bearing in mind that that data is only 25 years old, I think it highlights a lot of the issues we will be facing as a society as we go forward if open standards are not adopted for future information. This is not just the realms of software, but in the case of the Doomsday project, the hardware required to read the data is long gone. Think about all those floppy discs that are now obsolete... even things like Zip discs, MO drives, Travern tapes are all obsolete.
What are future archeologists going to think when they uncover our vast caché of Microsoft Word documents in a hundred years time? I only got married three years ago, and already I have to actively maintain the digital archive of those photos to keep them alive (moved physical media several times, dealt with Flickr Pro account expiring and Yahoo! buyout). My parents have a box of slides and prints in the cupboard of me as a baby that I can still view 30 years later. My daughter, in turn, is only 3 months old and already I think the photos of her will be hard to keep that long in digital medium. According to wikipedia, some of the video footage for the Doomsday Reloaded project was retrieved from the analog 1" video tape as it was (I guess) easier to recover than the digital data on the discs.