Domesday III

Back in 1986 the BBC embarked on an ambitious project to provide an update to the original Domesday Book of 1086. The project used the latest technology, publishing the new Domesday book on laserdiscs that could be read by special software on a BBC Microcomputer. Unfortunately, the project missed out on one of the most important rules for Backup, Backup, Backup: namely don’t use proprietary formats. Unfortunately, with the rapid pace of technology change, the updated Domesday book became almost unreadable as BBC micros and their laserdisc drives and Domesday software got consigned to the recycle scrap bin.

The good news is that “after a year of extracting, copying and indexing, the BBC is making the contents of the "community disc" – which details everyday life in Britain – available on the internet” as Domesday Reloaded.

I was at school in Romford in 1986, flared trousers, rat’s tails & Pierre Cardin jumpers (although I’m not sure how much of that was 1896 and how much was Romford) and can vaguely remember the BBC Domesday project so I went looking to see what I could find. Here’s two gems…

Living in Romford:

The results of a survey involving 289
 people who reside in the Marshalls    
 Park area were as follows:_           
  64% use the public library           
  30% use public transport             
  87% use local shops                  
  23.8 years was the average amount of 
 time interviewees had lived in        
  30% said they could find no fault    
 with Romford                          
  15% felt parking facilities were very
  14% were worried about problems of   
  13% felt vandalism was Havering's    
 greatest problem                      
  12% thought the crowds were a major  
  10% were concerned about a lack of   
 facilities for young people   

Romford Main Library:

Romford Library is 20 years old.     
 21,057 people belong to the library   
 and 64% of the people in our area use 
 the library. There are 105,823 books  
 in the library and 11,454 of those are
 children's books. 7519 books are taken
 out each week.                        
  The most commonly liked books are    
 Catherine Cookson's romantic novels.  
 The quietest part of the library is   
 the reference section. There are 6,668
 records in the library and the eldest 
 is from the middle ages.              
  Outside the library is the tramp, who
 has lived there for 2 years. The      
 library is near the town centre and   
 has three storeys.  

Domesday Reloaded is also encouraging updates and new contributions, which looks like a great activity for the classroom. I think we’ll take a look at Brightwell-cum-Sotwell and compare the original Domesday Book entries  for Brightwell and Sotwell with the Domesday Reloaded content for Brightwell-cum-Sotwell.

As well as looking at the content there’s also a great lesson here in technology and perspective. We’re great at analysing mistakes with hindsight, but not so hot seeing the future problems we’re storing up of the technology we use in our time. Here’s an example: Iain Mackenzie’s BBC article on Domesday Reloaded includes this closing statement:

Future generations will be able to access this unique snapshot of life in Britain online for as long as the internet keeps working.

Which isn’t strictly true. Being rather too pedantic something more like this is probably appropriate:

Future generations will be able to access this unique snapshot of life in Britain online for as long as the internet keeps working, the BBC keeps the web service going, and web browser support for the combination of HTML, Javascript and CSS used to publish the site is maintained.

Still, at least the current site passes W3C validation. Oh wait, it doesn’t…

Here’s the exercise: compare the longevity of the original Domesday book, with the BBC Domesday project and Domesday Reloaded and think what that means for all the other content we generate and share now. Where will that be in 2086 and does it matter?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>