Rob's Ramblings

Saturday 6 February 2010

Only the echoes remain

As anybody who is reading this knows, I've been putting together a website at to celebrate the heyday of Viewdata in the UK, especially Prestel. Prestel was invented by the GPO back in the 1970s, and launched in 1979, to encourage use of the telephone system, and was basically a dial-up computer network that allowed individual companies to publish information and offer interactive services. Name something you can do on the Internet today, and it's likely someone was doing it on Prestel in the 1980s. All on a teletext-style screen!

Last week, armed with the Prestel Directory, October 1983, I launched myself at What Do They Know? with the intent of eliciting any remaining information from the many public bodies that had had a presence on Prestel.

I only got two pages into the directory, somewhere in the "B"s, and found a dozen people to write to. So I did. It's only been three days, out of the twenty they are allowed, but so far four of them have indicated that they have nothing remaining.

Unfortunately, this seems fairly typical. I've not yet found anybody or any company that still has a copy of their pages, apart from myself. For a publishing effort that would have taken much time, many people, and several thousand pounds of investment, it's amazing that every public body that has so far replied hasn't got a single scrap of paper remaining about what they did at the time. I'm still amazed that there's no trace left anywhere of data and software from Prestel itself.

I learned yesterday too that an archive of the Music Link site from Prestel survived to late 2001, before being ruined while outside the control of the owner.

Sometimes it feels like a whole piece of our history has been snipped out of the timeline. Just like a bad Science Fiction film, where somebody made a mistake, and travelled back in time to correct it, changed the future, but left echoes behind of what should-have-been. All I can find are the echoes and none of the substance..

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