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BBC Domesday Project (wikipedia.org)
47 points by monort on Feb 12, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 20 comments

If you're visiting London, head north on the train for about 30 minutes and visit the museums at Bletchley: Bletchley Park itself, which documents the British WW2 codebreaking effort, and is amazing, and next door to it the National Museum of Computing, which has samples of basically every computer ever made, most of which you can play with, and which is amazing. (They have a working decatron decimal-based computer! Which you can play with! https://goo.gl/photos/FiTQAM8VkPknCAJR7)

But they also have a BBC Micro lab, complete with a Domesday Disc setup. Which you can play with. It's surprisingly usable.

The NMC is a hidden gem. They let you pay a reduced entry fee to see the Heath Robinson machine and Colossus (which is what everyone visiting Bletchley Park wants to see). I've always thought that was a shame because so many people don't get to see the rest of the museum (which is mad, and brilliant).

This was a bit like 'Google Street View' (extremely-lite) in that there were a couple of pictures of the village I grew up in on the Laser Discs. We had the whole kit and caboodle at school, plus, during holiday times (3 months of Summer), we could borrow the BBC Micro part to take home!!! This was what got me into programming 6502 assembler. All told, including the Domesday Project part, this was an extraordinary education effort by schools, the BBC and Acorn from which many oaks did grow.

The laser discs themselves were a bit like gold disc LP records - 12" sized and expensive looking. I believe there were video games in arcades that had the same technology going on with moving pictures rather than still frames.

As a whole though the Domesday content was a bit like Encarta and other multimedia CDs that came out when CD-ROM was a thing. Much like Encarta et al., one felt slightly disappointed at the lack of depth to the knowledge/information provided, thank goodness Wikipedia took off.

I remember getting involved in this when I was at school. It was part of the inspiration behind http://www.geograph.org.uk/ where we set up a free archive of geographical-themed pictures of the UK.

Back in around 2005 I contacted the original project leader to see if we could somehow help with the preservation, but at that time it was thought sorting through the copyright issues would make it impossible. I was happy to see it was eventually released online!

Long term archival was a concern for Geograph - aside from adopting a cc-by-sa licence on image submissions, we also worked with the National Archives to ensure a digital copy of the image archive is preserved.

The Domesday project occupies what seems now - the briefest window of opportunity - to create something that would become obsolescent so quickly! But I think its true value lies in acting as a warning to others...

> I remember getting involved in this when I was at school.

Same here. It was my BBC micro we used to enter the data for our village (Blackford). I never ever saw the end result.

They have a web version made in 2011, where you can compare the 80s pictures with 2011 pictures (looking at some places I know, they have already changed a lot since then, perhaps we need a 2016 version!).


It's pretty shameful that so little effort was apparently put into preserving these. Why bother doing this if they're going to just put them on a disk and let them rot for 30 years. As data become more sophisticated it seems to be harder and harder to archive them in formats that aren't obsolete within a few years. I can go to The National Archives and look at a document that's nearly 1000 years old (or visit http://opendomesday.org/ ), but the "new" version is unreadable less than 30 years later. What can be done about this? I'm assuming people must be investigating future-proof archival formats.

There were a lot of technical stumbling blocks to getting the data out, but the main problem was non-technical: Every child and adult who contributed has copyright on their works, and there are no records nor any copyright assignment.

The main benefit of this project was in providing many valuable lessons in how badly things can go wrong :-(

And it would have been such as easy problem to solve if someone had thought of it at the time. Plenty of open source projects have had to relearn this the hard way too. You need to insist on copyright assignment!

You need to insist that contributions are licensed under some open source license, which is different from copyright assignment. You may or may not do copyright assignment as well, but many projects do not since it gives the assignee powers to relicense the work including taking it proprietary.

Then there are "moral rights" which complicate things in some countries.

There aren't as far as I'm aware any open source licences that would allow the copyright holders to take existing work proprietary. Once it's released it can't be revoked. They'd only be able to do that to future work.

A licence like a Creative Commons cc-by-sa is not exclusive, and allows the copyright holder to do what they like with their work. What they can't do is revoke the licence terms from anyone who chooses to exercise them. At best, the copyright holder can request removal of attribution.

In another comment I mention the Geograph project which uses cc-by-sa. For some more background to that, I wrote about the reasons for selecting that licence to ensure long-term freedom of the archive here: http://www.geograph.org.uk/help/freedom

Yes and no. They can not take away rights granted to existing licensees. But the copyright holder can reissue the same work under whatever license they wish, without having to modify anything.

What the comment you replied to point out is that if I release something under the GPL and then assign copyright to you, you can legally decide to relicense that code under a proprietary license so that the people buying it from me don't have to abide by the GPL.

If I don't assign copyright, on the other hand, any such third parties would need my permission too.

Act of Parliament might do it. They did it for Peter Pan, after all.

I wonder if it would stand a chance as a private members bill....

If a project requires that contributors sign copyright over to a central party, that central party can later choose to release future versions under a proprietary license and profit off of others' past work.

A project that does not require central copyright assignment and that receives sufficient outside contributions cannot have that happen, provided it's licensed under something like the (L)GPL.

Copyright paralysis can be a feature rather than a bug.

There's an interesting and detailed rebuttal to the question of whether they had properly considered the future archival from a team member here: http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/25.44.html#subj7

VERY relevant 2015 paper from Alan Kay et al:


I was a young graduate at Logica when this had just been completed, and sat near a guy who was maintaining it. In what was then a largely "VT-100 world" it was pretty cool.

Really interesting, seems like copyright is the main problem. No-one had thought about that then, or the possibility of making the whole thing universally accessible on the internet rather than sitting it in an archive.

Making it accessible on the Internet may not preserve something. Just because people can download something doesn't mean it will persist.

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