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The Story of the Domesday Project

In 1986, 900 years after William the Conqueror’s original Domesday Book, the BBC published the Domesday Project. The project was probably the most ambitious attempt ever to capture the essence of life in the United Kingdom. Over a million people contributed to this digital snapshot of the country.  

People were asked to record what they thought would be of interest in another 1000 years.

The whole of the UK – including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man – was divided into 23,000 4x3km areas called Domesday Squares or “D-Blocks”.

Schools and community groups surveyed over 108,000 square km of the UK and submitted more than 147,819 pages of text articles and 23,225 amateur photos, cataloguing what it was like to live, work and play in their community.

This was about documenting everyday life - the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.

The project used the cutting edge technology of the day, and the data was eventually presented on a special type of Laser-Disc, read by a BBC master computer and navigated using an innovative tracker-ball pointing system.

But the technology didn’t catch on and the computers became very expensive for schools and libraries to buy. Very few people ever got to see the fruits of all of their hard work.

As time went on there were fears that the discs would become unreadable, as computers capable of reading the format had become rare and drives capable of accessing the discs even rarer.  

Now 25 years later in our age of the world wide web, digital photography, email and social networking, its time to have a look at those entries again, to bring the project up to date, and perhaps to lay down another layer of local history.

Here you can rediscover and explore images and articles from the original project to find out how life in Britain has changed... and how some things have stayed the same. In addition, you will be able to update the project by re-photographing the images today and updating text entries.

With the help of The National Archives this unique record will be preserved for future generations.

Acknowledgements

The Domesday project has been much loved over the years and behind the scenes enthusiasts, both amateur and professional, have been attempting to rescue the Domesday data.

In 1999 a group of academics in the US and the UK came together and formed the “CAMiLEON” consortium. They wanted to demonstrate that the principle of “emulation” of obsolete operating systems could be applied to multimedia. In 2002-3 the consortium successfully emulated the Domesday software and data on a modern computer.

In a private venture in 2001, Adrian Pearce set out to ‘reverse engineer’ the original Domesday data and make it available to any Windows PC – instead of emulating it. In 2004 he succeeded and published the data online, the first instance of a Domesday website.  However, on January 27th 2008, Adrian Pearce sadly died and the website was taken off line.

In early 2003 Andy Finney a producer on the original project and now working on behalf of the UK National Archives, arranged for high quality digital copies of the Domesday videodisc master tapes to be made. This also provided the photographs and maps used on the Domesday Reloaded website.

And quietly beavering away at the BBC was George Auckland and his Innovations Team, who have now completed a full extraction of the community disc. This is the material which has been published online as the centrepiece of the BBC “Domesday Reloaded” website.

Questions and Answers

What is a dblock?

For the purposes of the project, the map of the UK has been divided into 4x3km rectangles called D-Blocks, short for Domesday Block.

How long will the project run for?

You will be able to send us updated text and pictures until October 31st 2011.

What data is available online from the original discs?

At this stage we are only publishing content from the community disc archive. This is the photographs and text entries "Crowd sourced" from the public, the corresponding maps from 1986, and new ones from 2011.

How do I use the map on the homepage?

Simply search for a city, town, village or postcode. The map will then load with an orange overlay divided into squared sections. Click into one of these orange sections to load your d-block. If there is no orange overlay to click into then the square does not contain pictures or text from the original project and is 'empty'.

Can I update an empty square?

Unfortunately at this time it is not possible to update empty d-blocks.

I’m looking for pictures and text articles relating to a specific subject I’m interested in. Is it possible to find these on the site?

You can search from any part of the site by using the map or by key words. In the search box, type in your search term, select 'content' and then click 'Search'. You will then be taken to list of search results which can then be filtered by text and or picture. Clicking on a result will take you directly to the article or picture. From there you can also explore the rest of the d-block or search for more content.

I’ve found a text article written back in 86 and noticed some spelling mistakes, can these be corrected?

The data is almost exactly as it appears on the original laser discs. Those typos are original. For consistency we’re not altering or correcting any data from the original publication at this time.

I’ve updated my square, how long will it take to appear online?

We're working as quickly as possible to process new submissions and it may take some days before they appear online. During periods of heavy demand, this may take longer – so please do bear with us.

I think I wrote one of the articles, can I see a list of names of the people who contributed material?

Unfortunately many of the 1986 submissions did not include names of contributors. Any credits that were included will be displayed on the site. In some cases, the last text article as been used as a credits page, so it may be worth double checking there.

Why have you spelt 'Doomsday' wrong?

The original Domesday Project was launched to celebrate the 900th annivarsary of the Domesday Book and we have followed the original spelling.

Where is that building? place? landmark? etc

Unfortunately we do not have access to that kind of local information. You could try your local council/library etc as appropriate.

I remember taking part but there is no record of my contribution / I was sent a certificate at the time. Why isn't my submission on the site? Will it be coming soon?

At this stage we are only publishing content from the community disc archive. This is the photographs and text entries "Crowd sourced" from the public, the corresponding maps from 1986, and new ones from 2011. You may remember collecting data for the 'National Disc' which, unfortunately, we have not been able to re-publish at this time.

Can I see my original submission?

We do not have copies of the original submissions beyond what was included and published on the original laser discs.

The language in 1986 is inappropriate these days

The articles were submitted in 1986 and the language used may differ from what we feel is acceptable today. However, this is now a historic record and therefore we have republished it intact.