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Analytic 14 - Looking back - seven years of El.pub (Part 1)

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Digital content R&D
The impact of new technology
The place of hardware
R&D focus and projects


The El.pub web site was launched in March 1996, just over seven years ago. As the site may soon disappear, now is a good time to look back at the news items that we have carried and how the R&D focus has changed over the period. The site was part of a project funded under the Information Engineering sector of the European Union Fourth Framework Programme (FP4), and continued through FP5. We await the outcome of the evaluations of the first call of FP6 to see whether we shall continue.

As a great deal has happened in the world of ‘new media’ R&D in the last seven years, this review will be in two parts. The first a general overview of developments and the second a more detailed look at particular areas. The article will not look at e-commerce, which has not been the main focus of the El.pub information service. It will look at the different aspects of information and entertainment services that have made up digital content creation and publishing.

Looking back at the archive the first thing one sees is the much greater amount of news we carry now than when we started. At that time we carried only 4-5 items per week whereas now we carry 25-30. The improved efficiency is partly due to increased staffing but also reflects the much greater amount of information on the web now and the ease of accessing information both through news services and through search engines.

The surprising thing is that most of the links are still valid. It seems that very little is ever discarded on the web. Old research papers and conference sign-up pages are still there with the same URLs. James Clark’s DSSSL page (http://www.jclark.com/dsssl/) is still available, although the link to Joe English's
“DSSSL song” is no longer valid. Many of the headlines are similar to those of today: “Electrical power lines offer communications potential” is a headline (Oct. 10th 1997) that continues to reappear regularly without ever being turned into reality, as is “Moore's Law may come to an end” (Oct. 2nd 1997).

Some items have metamorphosed - “Audio Streaming Format (ASF) - final specification released” was an item with a link to Microsoft. That link now leads to The Advanced Systems Format (ASF) page that says that ASF is an extensible file format designed to store synchronised multimedia data, so perhaps the specification was not so “final” as originally thought.

Vendors have suffered a similar fate - some have disappeared, some have been taken over by other companies and some are still there in the market. For example digital cash was a hot topic in 1997, but the BlueMoney site is now one of those curious web pages that remain online but are overgrown by adverts, CyberCash has been taken over by VeriSign, Mondex returns a 404 error on the Mastercard site, while Digicash and Millicent simply timeout / are dead. Of 15 companies listed under intelligent agents in October 1997 only Verity and Hotbot are still in existence, the 1997 link to IBM’s intelligent agent page now says, “You have attempted to open a file that does not exist on our server”.

SGML companies have done rather better with only 5 of 18 having disappeared although there have been mergers and acquisitions amongst the others and most have now moved on, to focus on XML.

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Last up-dated: 16 February 2024

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