Digitally repackaging the news – a tale of time and technology that matters
The earliest known ‘newspaper’ was the Roman Acta Diurna. Julius Caesar ordered the posting of handwritten notices in major cities to inform the public about important happenings, governmental matters, wars, executions, even government scandals. The handwritten notices were posted in public gathering places including the famous baths. That was over two thousand years ago. The first printed newspapers, of sorts, were more like occasional pamphlets.
It was not long after Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1447 that newsletters and scandal sheets, the forerunners of sex, sports and celebrity rags at modern newsstands were circulating in German cities. One of the earliest scandal sheets reported how Germans were suffering at the hands of Vlad TsepesDrakul – the famous Count Dracula. There are no photos to tell if he really had long pointy teeth. By the 17th century, frequent, periodical, news publications were springing up throughout Europe. Censorship was common, most rulers were afraid the newssheets would spread dissension – the reaction, even today, of less enlightened governments.
It took a while, but rulers gradually, probably begrudgingly, became accustomed to newspapers and eased the heavy-handed censorship. In a sense, the birth of the information society – of information and communication technology, ICT – might be dated to the invention of the telegraph in 1884. It was not long before reporters started electrically communicating information, sending stories by telegraph; this changed the newspaper business forever. It might have been a big news item in London, but I found out about it quite by accident. The news that the Times would make its archives available to the public – from the date of its founding in 1785 to 1985 – online was tucked away in two lines at the back of my local newspaper. The Times is not the oldest surviving newspaper in the world or even in London.
The London Gazette, although it is now an official newspaper that records court decisions and the like, and no longer a general interest newspaper, is some 120 years older. Nevertheless, as the United Kingdom’s newspaper of record, and having followed the events that have sped our world on for more than 200 years, the Times tells the endlessly fascinating story of civilization’s ‘recent’ development. The Times has re-packaged its archives for modern times; it has digitalized some 20 million articles and more than 35 million images – almost everything it has published since its founding. Some of the original issues were damaged.
These are being restored; they will be digitalized and added to the online archive when ready. The next phase of the project will digitalise the remaining articles from 1985 on and those from the Sunday Times, another publication of the same group. The Time’s site is http://archive.timesonline.co.uk/tol/archive/; for now, the Times archive is open to all free of charge. The pages of the Times on the site were scanned and are displayed in their original format. Not only were they scanned, but the latest OCR (optical character recognition) technology was used to convert the image into a machine-readable format. This makes it possible to machine search the entire database for any topic or keyword.
It also makes it possible to use the basic Windows Ctrl C/ Ctrl V sequence to cut and paste the text directly into another document and edit it. One can ‘zoom’ the images and magnify them to read the text more easily. The typography of the early Times left much to be desired, so this is a very useful feature. In fact, the typography was so bad, that complaints prompted the Times to commission a new typeface, Times New Roman – which for almost 80 years has set the standard for typeface readability. It is one of the most popular typefaces in the world and almost every computer includes it as a standard font.
The Times is nothing less than a day-by-day history – from the Times’ rather singular perspective – of how the world has navigated for more than two centuries. Read about the adoption of the USA’s Constitution, Napoleon’s successes and defeat, the crowning of kings and the beheading of a queen, world wars and local wars, the wonders of science and technology, the rise and fall of dictators, the rise and fall of countries or the sinking of great ships – it’s all there in the Times. The digital Times, although not planned as such, is one more important piece in the drive to digitalise all the world’s information, another step towards the completion of a universal online library that contains all the still existing written material ever published. A universal digital library is a sort of holy grail for all those involved in a wide variety of digital library initiatives.
The Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt was said by some to contain all of the world’s existing knowledge. Other estimates put the figure at 30 to 70 per cent. Today, it may be technically possible to get close to the 100 per cent mark. Honestly, I am not sure it is all worth the trouble and expense to save. Still, even if we do not diligently search out every bit of junk ever put to paper, disc, film or tape I am sure we will do a much better job of documenting the world than they did in Alexandria – Alexandria did not have You Tube. The EU’s i2010: Digital Libraries Initiative, is part of the EU’s 2009-2010 Work Programme for ICT research for the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
The Digital Libraries Initiative, in a sense, is working to create a contemporary Library of Alexandria. I read through the EU’s far-reaching and well thought through digital initiatives several weeks ago and, well, I’m impressed. The Digital Library, one part of these initiative, is the EU’s effort to make “our cultural and scientific heritage (books, journals, films, maps, photographs, music, etc.) accessible to all and preserve it correctly for future generations…It is a flagship initiative of the Commission’s overall strategy to boost the digital economy, the i2010 strategy.”
I don’t think we will ever get to the point where everything is on-line, but I am fairly sure we will eventually save and make available all that really matters – all the important contributions from every culture on Earth. And one day, not too many years from now, we will all be able to easily access the world’s knowledge and wisdom whenever we need it, and that’s all that matters.
Our next Connect-World EMEA Issue will be published early next month. This edition of Connect-World will be widely distributed to our reader base and, as well, at shows such as: IBC Amsterdam (12-16 Sept) Carriers World (London, UK, 23-26 Sept) Broadband World Forum Europe (Brussels, Belgium, 29 Sept-2 Oct) and AfricaCom (18-19 Nov, Cape Town South Africa). The theme for this issue will be Convergence and data – pushing the limits of the network. The Internet has changed our world and the global economy.
We are now entering a new stage in its growth. Web 2.0, collaboration, virtual worlds and mashups are all part of it. Also parts of the new Web are the evolutionary moves towards the semantic/ intelligent web, IPv6, the growth in enterprise services that are not a mere extension of existing services and financial services such as mobile cash and credit.
The Web is also revolutionising education, healthcare, government and social services in general. The impact of this upon the world’s ICT infrastructure is hard to calculate, but you see and feel the effects wherever you are in the region – or the world.
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