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Works Records System – A multi-user online programmable spreadsheet in 1974 (wikipedia.org)
75 points by rbanffy on June 14, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

I would only object to that part of the article, as over-inflated:

The 3270 hardware also came equipped, as standard, with the ability to "physically" update a small section of the remote screen buffer (including its text colour, background, input behaviour and other attributes) using a "Write" (modified) command, instead of needing to retransmit the entire screen buffer on every change (anticipating Ajax software technology that re-emerged some 22 years later for web 2.0 based applications and now utilized for online spreadsheets and most other recent applications for similar reasons).

Claiming that the 3270 anticipated Ajax is really, shall I say, "interesting".

I implemented a multi-user chat (similar to Linux talk) on a 3270, so I do appreciate the addressable location feature.

Right. ncurses, too, implements the same kind of lazy redrawing of screen contents, and probably all graphics systems do this as well. The technique is fairy old.

Forms in the 3270 protocol go a bit beyond lazy redrawing; AJAX is a (semi-)valid comparison. Effectively, when you "submit" a screen on a 3270, what you're sending back over the connection (before any optimizations) is the same block of characters you were originally sent to render the screen—but with your modifications, appearing exactly in the places you made them. The "addressable locations" allow for both reading and writing—as in, both sending updates from the server to the client (ncurses-like), and the client to the server (AJAX-like "onblur" submission of individual form fields.)

Effectively, the client and server are both keeping a representation of the same terminal character-bufer (like screen(1) or VNC), but instead of sending updates whenever either side changes, updates are explicit. And so most 3270 server software uses the "the client synchronized the buffer to the server" event as the trigger for parsing, validating and persisting the data out of the buffer.

When put that way, it's more like some kind of... REpresentational State Transfer, isn't it?

This is currently up for deletion, because it has nearly nothing in the way of good sources. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Articles_for_deletio...

If this is significant, then the way to help it along is to dig out Wikipedia-quality sources for this software. Someone must have something ...

[edit: I see a comment attributes creation to Ken Dakin instead of Dr. Robert Mais. I've made some adjustments as a result.]

Sometimes I cannot fathom the logic of Wikipedia, especially wanting to delete this article. From my understanding of the discussion, this is because the entry was made by one of the development team of WRS.

That's the same logic that would have articles created by Albert Einstein deleted because he was documenting his own work and that alone is sufficient reason to discard it, regardless of the actual content or how noteworthy it is/was.

I find the logic perverse as it actively discriminates against potentially valuable information being documented and detailed by original creators; the WRS gives good prior art on some uses of spreadsheet concepts (especially across time dimensions). You don't need to think too much to understand the value in documenting such a concept, especially by the creator/first implementor (which in normal mortal circles would be considered a coup).

While the intention is to stop any random person filling wikipedia with their random nonsense thoughts, it seems quite evident from a quick review of the article that it has merit on a number of levels.

I wonder what Ken Dakin did to upset the Wiki-Overlords?

While I would identify as Wikipedia inclusionist [1], I find this article quite problematic. It is (quite) impossible for a reader to verify any of the claims made in the article. Five years ago, someone (probably Ken Dakin) wrote this article and no other person on the whole planet earth has apparently been able or willing to add information or support the claims of the article. For all that we know, the WRS might just be an elaborate hoax [2] or part of a plot by someone who hates VisiCalc. (A quick Google search turned up some further sources that suggest that at least someone calling himself Ken Dakin actually exists and claims to have worked on WRS [3].)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deletionism_and_inclusionism_i... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:List_of_hoaxes_on_Wi... [3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXA_kwrkxA0

I find myself thinking that there could be a middle ground.

Keep the article but slap a border or something on it to indicate that it is no a proper wikipedia article.

I can't think an article like this takes up much storage capacity on their servers.

The issue is not storage space.

Wikipedia wants to be an encyclopaedia, if you want to publish original research, put it on your blog.

As the person who started the AFD, I don't have anything against Ken Dakin personally, but part of the problem is that he obviously has a bias in analysing the historical significance of his own career. He thinks some (obscure) system he worked on in the early-to-mid-1970s was very similar to what (much more well-known) people did a bit later in the 1970s and into the 1980s (such as VisiCalc). Maybe he's right, but then again maybe what he did isn't actually as close to what those later people did as he thinks (and might even be unfair to those later people); since none of us have seen this 1970s system he worked on, it's a hard question to answer. What's really needed is someone neutral and authoritative to do that evaluation – and searching reliable sources (e.g. academic journals, books from reputable publishers, etc) I can't find anything approaching that. (What little I can find seems more focused on studying on-Wikipedia controversies about WRS than evaluating WRS in its own right.) Deletion is never permanent, and an article deleted from Wikipedia today could be recreated in a few more years if better sources appear for it during that time. (There are journals that cover this stuff; e.g. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing – if someone wrote a paper about this system, and had it published there, Wikipedia could then cite that as a reliable source.)

Can Ken just put up that content as his own webpage, which Wikipedia can then reference as a primary source?

No, Wikipedia does not accept first-party posts as notable, from my understanding. Me mentioning it on my personal blog would also be insufficient, it has to be a third-party publication that is itself notable enough.

Back then, people had homepages to document their achievements. Before that, oral history would be written up in conference proceedings. Stuff doesn't have to go into Wikipedia, which seems ever more passé as time wears on.

Until additional sources are found, you can export the article with full history and back it up somewhere public and immutable (e.g. github, pastebin), so that the content isn't forever lost when the article is deleted. Include the original license.

Perhaps there are other, subject-specific wikis where this content would be considered welcome and notable.

Surely there are people on HN that know about it and can pitch in ... I hope so.

> I strongly suspect this article was created by Ken Dakin, who it appears has chosen to use Wikipedia to document the achievements of his career. We have recently deleted two articles which he created for a similar purpose; see Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/IBM OLIVER (CICS interactive test/debug) and Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/SIMON (Batch Interactive test/debug).

Maybe Ken is an HN user? ;)

What if, instead of deleting odd or bad behavior, wikipedia had pages for them. Like companies paying editors to polish or lie on their page. Or people being their own fanbase.


Not sure if sarcastic, since there are already Wikipedia editors paid to polish and lie on the pages of public figures.

I meant that IIUC wikipedia deal with this by reverting the changes, but I would make pages that list odd behaviors too instead of deleting. After all it's also a piece of information. And that would make people less inclined to attempt BS in the first place.

Someone had perhaps set up a place for reminiscences and descriptions of ur-systems such as this as Wikipedia seem to want to have pages with independent verification. We don't want ephemera lost as people retire/die and Web sites suffer bitrot.

It did strike me that the author (one of the developers of the system) was - perhaps implicitly - claiming quite a lot of influence for his work.

PS: We had a school trip to ICI Runcorn in around 1975 or so. Alas, I don't remember any dumb terminals (we were in labs and a hall that could cope with 20 schoolboys). We were there to see a demonstration of fluorine chemistry - which definitely made an impression, as did the practical session on fitting and testing gas cylinders (we had nitrogen ones to fit, they weren't daft).

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