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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Domesday Data

In 1986, a new multimedia Domesday Book was created to commemorate the original’s 900th anniversary. The BBC-led project used contributions from the public (mostly schools) to build up a detailed record of 80s UK life stored on 2 laser discs. I don’t know how many drives could ever read them, but I suspect it was restricted to some schools and libraries, and I doubt the drives were used for much else.

Unfortunately, although the 1086 book’s still perfectly readable, the 1986 effort was unusable within a decade as technology moved on, and was only salvaged in 2002 thanks to data recovery and emulation. It’s an oft-quoted example of the perils of digital storage media and proprietary data formats.

Nowadays you can access Domesday 1986 on the web (click the circular image at the bottom) and rummage nostalgically through the quirky articles and photos. But what’s most amusing/bemusing is that it only works in a few browsers, has poor usability and accessibility, doesn’t let you link to items, and uses non-standard markup. Some people just never learn…

Update: Adrian Pearce of LongLife Data, who painstakingly recovered & reverse-engineered the data and created the web version, has been in touch. He says work’s still being done on the project, with some of the national data due to appear this year, and he’s open to suggestions if people want to get in touch. For all of its quirks, Domesday 1986 is a valuable record so it’s great to hear it’s being looked after.

(See also: ‘Long-term backup’ and ‘An Alert Unlike Any Other’)


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