Category Archives: Communications

64 Bits celebrates WWW history in 64 moments

Iconic Apples browse the web at 64 Bits
Iconic Apples browse the web at 64 Bits

When did the world wide web become history? As the iconic ‘Dancing Baby’ turns 21, internet users, budding digital historians and the simply curious are offered a trip down www. memory. lane in London from 30th March to 21st April 2017.

64 Bits: An exhibition of the Web’s lost past, a new interactive showcase of 64 seminal moments in the web’s history, is taking place at The Press Centre, Here East, in iconic Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Billions of people use the web on a daily basis – but do you know who invented the search engine? Would you be interested in browsing the world’s first ever website? Have you ever heard of Susan Kare?

64 Bits is a fun, interactive recreation of the early years of the web. As part of a wider digital archaeology project, it seeks to plug gaps in the historical record by telling the stories of the forgotten artist engineers that shaped today’s digital culture.

Take Alan Emtage, Barbadian-born inventor of the search engine. Billions of people use the technology he created on a daily basis but very few know his name. The exhibition includes a working version of his first search engine, Archie.

Icons by Susan Kare have become part of our culture
Icons by Susan Kare have become part of our culture

Equally significant, is the work of designer Susan Kare. Her icons and fonts have been seen by billions of people, yet few know her name. The exhibition incorporates a selection of the key milestones in her career, including the original Macintosh icons, the MacPaint interface and the Microsoft Solitaire playing cards.

Legends of the lost

These are not isolated cases. Many pioneering examples of digital creativity from our recent digital past can no longer be seen. Files have been lost or stored on redundant media. People have passed away. Companies have gone out of business. Stories have been lost. 64 Bits explores these forgotten roots and offers alternate histories.

The Dancing Baby was one moment in Weird Worldwide Web history
The Dancing Baby was one moment in Weird Worldwide Web history

A key part of the exhibition is an open-door digital media archiving service, supported by the British Library, where artists and designers can bring in obsolete media to migrate inaccessible historical artwork to a modern format. Where appropriate, the excavated work will be exhibited as part of the exhibition.

Eboy pixel art
Eboy pixel art

Curator Jim Boulton says, “The early lessons of the web are in real danger of being lost forever. With Here East’s focus on digital innovation and the Olympic Park’s legacy remit, then Here East is the perfect venue for 64 Bits.”

Lucy Bawden, Programme Manager at Here East says, “The exhibition will be the starting point for a programme of related workshops and talks at Here East around digital art and the connection of technology and creativity.” Continue reading 64 Bits celebrates WWW history in 64 moments

Caught in the Micronet

Micronet 800

Some things in life seem lost in the mists of time, but since I returned to my roots by taking up retrocomputing a few years ago, so many fond memories have come back to me, often with a feeling of regret that the subject of those memories is no longer with us.  One such subject is Micronet 800 – and my own active involvement in that much-loved and much-missed online system, as a co-editor of one particular section – 16/32.

For those who have never heard of it, Micronet 800 was an early online information provider on Prestel, British Telecom’s interactive Viewdata system, which, beloved as it was by travel agencies and public libraries, was in many ways Britain’s web before the World Wide Web.  Micronet 800, which was provided by Telemap Group, a part of EMAP, was aimed at the 1980s personal computer market, and was an online ‘electronic magazine’ that gave subscribers computer related news, reviews, general subject articles and downloadable ‘telesoftware.

It coexisted with dozens of independent and mostly free text-based ‘bulletin board’ systems which were dotted about the country.  But unlike these boards, Prestel and therefore Micronet 800 was usually available at local call rates – in the days before cheap telephone calls and broadband internet!

Prestel

Users would log onto the Prestel network and enter the Micronet 800 home page by entering *800# (hence the name) on their modem or computer. Most Micronet 800 members would have their default main index page set to page 800 automatically.  The Prestel system used an asymmetric 1200/75 system – 1200 baud download speed, 75 baud upload.  As there was no high resolution graphic content on Prestel (it was all done in text and special characters, the display was just 24 lines of 40 characters, with seven colours and very simple block graphics), the slow data rates mattered little.

By May 1986, I had become an Atari 520STFM user (I later also owned the original 520ST), and my enthusiasm was such for this wonderful computer (the poor man’s Macintosh!) and online communications, that I decided I wanted to give something back to the Atari community, and so I decided to offer my services in editing on Micronet 800.  And so it was that, with my assistance, a whole new area for ST users began to open up on Prestel.

16/32 Micronet Directory Entry, from members magazine Logon, issue 12, Summer 1990

Continue reading Caught in the Micronet