Thursday, March 02, 2017

BPN 1732: 50 years digital culture in The Netherlands

It was in the sixties that mainframe and mini computers made its entry in Europe. Besides administration, computers started to be use used for digital culture tasks. This year, 2017, it is fifty years ago that digital media in The Netherlands were introduced to be used for digital culture. Pioneer was the late Reed Elsevier publisher Dr. Pierre Vinken.

New business 
Vinken worked as a neurosurgeon at the University Hospital in Leiden. There he came into contact with automation thanks to prof. Dr. A.R. Bakker, the promoter of a hospital information system BAZIS. Until 1966 Vinken also worked as an editor at Excerpta Medica, an international abstracts publishing  in the medical field. The publishing house had a permanent staff of 54 medical specialists who were editorially responsible for 35 abstract journals and reference works. The editorial staff produced summaries of biomedical articles and indexed these. In the sixties the archive stored more than 1.3 million English-language abstracts and a multiple number of index terms were deposited in a thesaurus. The paper production process was cumbersome and not very efficient. 

More production, more accuracy, fewer people 
When Vinken became managing director in 1966 became director, he soon developed ambitious plans for the publishing portfolio. He wanted to expand the number of abstract journals. In practice, he wanted more targeted journals with cross journal summaries. In the former production line this  meant that the relevant abstracts and indexing terms had to be typeset again. Moreover Vinken strived after full consistency in the thesaurus terms by a fully automated thesaurus Malimet (Master List of Medical Terms). In fact Vinken aimed at more production and more accuracy. Despite the  greater production, he did favour expansion of the typing  room where texts and index terms were punched on the ribbons for processing in typesetting machines

Pierre Vinken (second from right) during visit to headquarters the computer manufacturer NCR in March 1969 

In response to these plans, technical specifications were drawn up for an editorial system  in 1967. In his search for a system, Vinken met Frans van der Walle, an aircraft engineer. He recommended him to buy a computer system that consisted of four linked NCR 315 machines. In a next step, all typesetting and computer activities of Excerpta Medica were transferred to a new software house, Infonet, a joint company of the publisher and Van der Walle. In 1968 a pilot run was successful and after the installation of the system in 1969, significant savings were realized in the production process of publishing. Moreover, thanks to the new production method Excepta Medica was able to launch new magazines for smaller targeted audiences. 

The success of Excerpta Medica and Infonet, made Vinken made a much sought after consultant in electronic publishing  projects. In 1969 he was consulting for the Dutch library project PICA, the Project for Integrated Catalogue Automation. The thesaurus method of Excerpta Medica was imitated in the project of the Great Spectrum Encyclopedia, for which Infonet developed the editorial and production system in 1970.

Pierre Vinken, sitting next to the later EU commissioner Neelie Kroes during the launch of the European Network Euronet-Diane in the Netherlands in 1980 (© NBBI) 

In 1973 Vinken was asked by the Dutch government to lead the Committee on Nuclear Information. This committee was established by the government in 1973 and was responsible for importation of the Dutch abstract contributions to the database of the International Nuclear Information System (INIS). More committees would follow such as one on metallurgical information and one on Dutch Bibliography.

In 1974 Vinken started the last phase in electronic publishing.  Excerpta Medica, now acquired by Elsevier, began to distribute its publications per tape to pharmaceutical companies for internal use of the research departments as well as electronic online services. In that year the abstracts became available worldwide on the American Information Service Dialog.

In 1976 Vinken was appointed professor of medical information collections at Leiden University. His inaugural speech was titled: Information generates information. 

Until 1980 Vinken remained actively involved in the development of new media and electronic publishing in the Netherlands, but he also operated internationally. In 1980 he bought on behalf of Elsevier, the American publisher Congressional Information Services (CIS), reportedly f 43 million US dollar. CIS was engaged in collecting, indexing and distributing data from nearly 300 committees and sub-committees of the US Congress, both in print and digitally. The acquisition of this publishing house was the prelude to the establishment of the publishing house Europe Data in 1983 by Elsevier. This new publishing company had to apply to the US CIS formula in the European Community, but through multiple media and multiple languages. The company was off to a slow start, despite the financial participation of the Limburg Development Fund LIOF. But the company never picked up speed as Europeans do not pay for government documents. Vinken as CEO of Elsevier, decided to close Europe Data.

But in the year 1994 Vinken won the trophy of his electronic publishing career as an electronic publisher. As a member of the Board of Directors of Reed Elsevier he was part of the group responsible for the acquisition of the LexisNexis information service for 1.5 billion US dollar by Elsevier.

In thirty years Vinken saw the whole publishing process, from production to distribution and profitability change and experienced company successes of Excerpta Medica and LexisNexis, but also the failure of Europe Data. With such a career dr. Pierre Vinken proudly can be called a pioneer of new media and electronic publishing industry in the Netherlands, but also abroad.

Monday, February 20, 2017

BPN 1731: Iconic laptop computers auctioned

On Friday, February 17th, 2017 the European auction site Catawiki Computer Collectibles auctioned off two vintage laptop computers: an Olivetti M-10 and a Tandy Radio Shack Model 200. The two icons were auctioned with a difference of 74 euros. 

Both laptops are icons of a time when portable computers were more lugables weighing about 10 kg. Around 1982 to 1984 light weight laptop computers arrived, ranging between  1.5 and 2 kg. From 1983 onwards the ultimate form for a laptop computer was sought. A family of laptop computers manufactured by Kyocera shows the development. The NEC 8201A and the Tandy Radio Shack Model 100 came on the market in Europe in 1983. They were later followed by the Olivetti M-10 and Tandy Radio Shack Model 200.

Above left: NEC 8201A (on loan from Hans van Nieuwkerk; photograph: Collection Jak Boumans); top right: Tandy Radio Shack Model 100 (computer and photograph: Collection Jak Boumans), bottom left: Olivetti M-10 (Catawiki); below right: Tandy Radio Shack Model 200 (Catawiki)

Both laptops are icons of a time when portable computers were more lugables weighing about 10 kg. Around 1982 to 1984 light weight laptop computers arrived, ranging between  1.5 and 2 kg. From 1983 onwards the ultimate form for a laptop computer was sought. A family of laptop computers manufactured by the Japanese Kyocera shows the development. The NEC 8201A and the Tandy Radio Shack Model 100 came on the market in Europe in 1983. They were later followed by the Olivetti M-10 and Tandy Radio Shack Model 200.

The case of the first two laptop computer had a keyboard on top and a 8-line screen.But in contrast to the NEC 8201A and Tandy Radio Shack Model 100,Italian manufacturer Olivetti ordered a model with a separate movable screen of 8-lines. The Tandy Radio Shack Model 200 however had a separate movable screen the size of the case, offering a 16-line screen. In this way the Tandy Radio Shack Model 200 became the prototype for the laptop. 

At the auction there was a slight competition between a laptop computer design and a prototype laptop while basically the case was the same, be it different with memory specifications. The design laptop computer took only 26 euros at auction, while the Tandy Radio Shack Model 200 yielded 100 euros, while the auctioneer estimated the portable computer could fetch 50 to 260 euros. 

It is amazing to see two vintage laptop computers, so iconic because of their movable screens, showed such a difference in price.

Friday, January 20, 2017

BPN: 1730 Dutch e-books and audiobooks: a good 4Q 2016

The Dutch book logistic company CB has released a new e-book barometer. The developments in the field of e-books in the Dutch language for the fourth quarter of 2016 have been illustrated in a infograph. A new feature in the barometer is the inclusion of the development of audio books and e-book subscriptions; both show a percentage growth in net sales. E-book sales and e-book lending continue to grow (resp. 13% and 47% compared to the fourth quarter of 2015). In addition, the growth of audio books has seen a 40% growth in net sales compared to the same quarter in 2015.

Subscription services new growth area 
In the e-book barometer CB now also provides insight into e-books through subscriptions. Net sales growth compared to the same quarter in 2015 runs up to 948%. Important to mention is that just before the end of 2015, the first subscription services hit the market.
Bruna bookstore chain was the first to launch the service Bliyoo in late 2015, which offers subscribers unlimited reading for € 9.95 per month. Another e-book subscription service Elly's Choice offers a monthly changing offer of ten e-books for € 2.99 per month. The library service contains 10,000 books, audio books and comic books.
Webshop is also working on a subscription service whereby customers can borrow e-books from an online library for a fixed monthly amount. The service co-operates with e-reader maker Kobo in the development of the service. Speculation is that the subscription service will cost € 9.95 per month. It is unclear how large the global library will be and whether customers can borrow unlimited books. However, it is indicated that hopes to attract 'several tens of thousands "of subscribers before the end of the year. 

Sources: CB press release and post Telegraaf.

(tick to enlarge infographic)


E-book market 
46.614 e-book titles
- 43.872 e-book titles for sale
- 13.636 e-book titles for loan through libraries
- 11.943 e-book titles for subscription services
-   2.658 audio books

330 publishers
117 retailers 

User market 
1.850.000 e-readers
8.600.000 tablets
10.600.000 smart phones 

1.       E-book sales up 13% in 4Q 2016; 9% over the last 12 months 
       -          E-book subscription sales up 948% in 4Q 2016
2.    E-book loans up 47% in 4Q 2016
3.    Audio books up 40% in 4Q 2016 

E-book titles are still growing.
E-book sales and e-book loans are still growing and teaming up in the same bandwidth.
E-book subscriptions are still a growth segment in the e-book market.
The number of e-book publishers and retailers is not growing.
The use of e-readers is still growing.
Tablets and smart phones are halting. 

 The stats are based on the infographic published by CB (in the Dutch language)

Friday, November 11, 2016

BPN 1729: i-mode heads for history

The mobile information service i-mode will be ready for the history books next year. According to The Japan News, Japanese telecom company NTT DoCoMo announced that the production of  the customised mobile phones will stop, while the service itself will be phased out over 2017. At its peak in 2009 i-mode registered almost 49 million subscribers in Japan.

Technically i-mode was a web service for GSM telephones, using compact HTML protocol for surfing and e-mailing on customised mobile telephone devices with little memory. Interesting was the attention given to the part of content in this service. As the service needed specially edited pages, NTT DoCoMo parsed the content pages before releasing them for consultation. 

In Europe licenses were given to Dutch telecom operator KPN, the Greek operator cosmOTE and the British operator O2.In 2004 these operators clocked 2 million subscribers. KPN used its license in Germany with E-Plus, in Belgium with Base and in the Netherlands. The KPN services were launched in 2002. The telecom company officially held a license for 10 years, but the Dutch service was terminated in 2007; at its peak in 2003, the Dutch service counted 1 million subscribers. The German, the Belgian and British services in 2009.

The service has been overtaken by technology. Although mobile Internet was possible from 1995 onwards, installation of the settings was technically complicated; besides usage was very expensive, especially from abroad. NTT Docomo launched a content service with a special telecom protocol, which also needed special mobile phones. The service was also called teletext for mobile telecom. KPN claimed in 2004 that had 560 i-mode services provided by 400 national and international content providers.

In Japan the service has run from 1999 and will be terminated in 2017. NTT DoCoMo still has 17 million subscribers, which represent 30 per cent of the operator’s subscriber base. The long run of i-mode in Japan and the short run in Europe can perhaps be explained by the characters used in the Japanese language. Also the elderly segment of the subscribers loved the mobile phones customised for the segment, the service and the e-mail facilities.

(To enlarge tick on the illustration) 

Will i-mode leave  any historical trace? The special phone is being phased out, but a copy will undoubtedly be saved by a telecom museum. The content services will also be missing towards  the end of next year, unless NTT DoCoMo will make a copy of the services (which is usually forgotten). However, the e-mail service is maintained. And the telecom company has safeguarded the e-mail symbols, emoji ( 文字 in Japanese) by donating  the original set of e-mail symbols to the Modern Museum of Art. The set emoji was designed by Shigetaka Kurita, a designer in the i-mode development team. For the launch of i-mode he designed 176 emoji on the basis of the format of 12x12 pixels.

For more background see the following blogpostings on Buziaulane:

Friday, October 21, 2016

BPN 1728: Terror, an interactive TV drama from Germany

On October 17 the German television station ARD broadcasted the interactive TV drama Terror - Ihr Urteil (Terror - Your judgment). It was a social experiment in in which viewers could vote on the outcome.

The drama is positioned as an ethical and constitutional dilemma. A plane hijacked by terrorists, is heading to a football stadium to crash there. In the plane 164 people sit and in the stadium 70,000 football supporters are present. In crisis talks it must be decided whether the plane should be shot down before it reaches the football stadium. An Air Force  major  chooses to bring down the plane with 164 persons and thus sacrificing  the lives of a small group of innocent civilians over against 70,000 football supporters. In a lawsuit by the State vs. the Air Force major a verdict is asked from the court. Viewers are invited to act as a jury, asking whether the major was right? Although the voting by phone and by computer did not go smoothly the majority of viewers in Germany voted in favour of the Major of acting correctly. Nevertheless, under German law he was convicted, as he had destroyed the lives of innocent passengers.

The drama contains references to terrorist acts and threats from the immediate past. In 9/11, the question was raised whether a fighter jet should be in the air to shoot down a hijacked plane that was heading for the Pentagon. Also, the reference to the attack on Stade de France in2015 is visible, while also a reference is made to the crashed plane flown by the depressed Lufthansa pilot in France.

The TV drama Terror - ihr Urteil is probably one of the few interactive TVdrama programs. Interactive is a big term as there was little drama activity, existing of the invitation to the viewer to be part of the jury. However the TV drama is a new step in the history of interactive drama.

This type of drama goes back to 1934 when in a US theater Ayn Rand gave the audience the part of the jury in a murder drama in the play Night of January 16th; the public could pronounce the guilty or not guilty verdict. Night of January 16th was staged in different versions and also made into a movie in 1941; later also radio and television version were made.

In 1967, at the Expo in Montreal a Czech film collective presented the Kinoautomat with the movie One Man and his jury. The film is about residents of an apartment, who do not get on  together well. A woman who took a shower, comes out to see who is at the door of the apartment and unfortunately closes the door of her apartment. Then she calls for help on her neighbor. Will she help, as the caller for help is just wrapped in a towel? Throughout the film the audience makes choices on a box with two buttons, option 1 or option 2, but in the end always the question is asked: will the neighbor help: yes or no. During the expo all group voted yes, except once – so the rumor has it - when the voting was done by a large group of nuns. This movie was made in the Czech Republic during the communistic regime and underlying this experiment was the satirical thesis of the film director that you can vote what you want, but the result remains always the same.

After the theater and movie experiments, Philips announced in the early nineties, the CD-i as the interactive medium, with which a user could make choices about a good or bad outcome. But CD-I lived to short in order to attract such a drama production for the medium. So far there have not been any signals yet on the internet of an interactive drama. However, the principle of making interactive choices has really taken off in the game world.