Riding on the wave of excitement generated through BBC Domesday Reloaded project makes this a good time to take an objective look at some of the wider issues arising out of Domesday for learning technology, and if possible learn some lessons for the future.
“In 1986 the BBC launched an ambitious project to record a snapshot of everyday life across the UK for future generations. A million volunteers took part…”
This an interesting statement, because it was never realised through the original project format; but now may be with the release of the Reloaded project, and even more so if the data on the National Disc is finally released. Unless folk were associated with a school or had access at a library it is unlikely they would have had hands-on experience of the Domesday system.
Many blogs and tweets suggest that Domesday Reloaded is a complete reconstruction of the original 1984-86 project, but that is quite far from the truth. It does not contain any of the rich data from the National Disc. The National Disc contains a great deal of, (authoritative), media and statistics. Just how much can be gauged in the first section of this promotional video, specifically from 03:15 > 9:32, on the timeline. It is clear that the Community disc data is culturally significant and the National data disc completes that anecdotal snapshot of the UK picture with an even and focused coverage.
Neither is it true to suggest that the only reason for the loss of the Domesday data is obsolescent technology. Human shortcomings are just as much, if not more to blame. Although obsolescent technology may have contributed to the the loss of the Domesday system, it was not the only cause. This is evidenced by the fact that researchers based at Leeds University and the University of Michigan working on the Camileon Project were successful in accessing and emulating the BBC's Domesday project on a PC.
Although the systems were superseded by digital optical media, many of the surviving systems, (c.1000 sold), were just left in cupboards or as I heard through trusted anecdotal evidence - in one LEA (Local Education Authority), 2 were simply thrown in the skip when moving offices. Again the human factor... one wonders how many times this was replicated?
Evidence, from Charlesworth. University of Hull, (2002); suggests that the greatest obstacle was clearing Copyright. Nearly all the content, including both data and software has IP rights attached. It appears to be an extremely complex web of rights. Charlesworth’s report also indicates, even at the time of writing (2002), some rights holders were untraceable and it could be 2090 before all data would be in the public domain.
Should ever such a venture be undertaken in the future (using public funds and contributions) it would make sense to ensure that content providers and contributors were asked to make their work available under a Creative Commons licence, or at least the BBC Creative Archive Licence. Unfortunately this is not a requirement of the Reloaded initiative and there is no real licencing guidance for contributors other than the BBC’s normal T&Cs. (Even so, everyone should contribute because of the cultural significance of the project). Similarly it would be hoped any future venture would be developed using Open Source software.
In addition to the Domesday Reloaded will achieve is to generate awareness and of Domesday, (including the original Domesday Book, which is also online), judging by blog post and tweets this is already happening. In order to fully appreciate the nature of the BBC Domesday Project it is worth reading this detailed description of Domesday and also the work of Darlington, Finney and Pearce describing the recovery of the data on the discs. Sadly; Adrian Pearce died in 2008 and his original site is no longer available but the http://www.domesday1986.com/ URL now links to the Domesday Special Interest Group.
There are indications from the Centre for Computing History that they are working with the National Disc and hoping to make it live in the near future. Great news if it happens.
If there are any factual errors in this post please let me know and I will amend as appropriate.