Domesday Reloaded Project opens at Bletchley Park

By Dave Lee
Technology Reporter


A vast multimedia archive of life in the 1980s as seen by the public has been reinvented in a new exhibit.

The BBC's Domesday Project has been made into an interactive 'touchtable' now on display at The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park.

Visitors can zoom in on any part of the UK and see multimedia submitted in both the eighties and in 2011.

Over one million people contributed to what is regarded as a pioneering experiment in crowd-sourcing.

The wealth of content on offer includes TV news reports, photographs and written accounts by local people, all of which can now be accessed using a 52-inch multi-touch screen.

The original Domesday Project was launched by the BBC in 1986 to coincide with the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday Book.

People across the country were asked to give their observations about their day-to-day life.

Image caption,
The table allows up to four people to explore the archive at once

Unlike today's Facebook-dominated online world where sharing can be done in an instant, keen participants wanting to contribute had to produce photographs on slides which were then posted to the team. Text had to be sent in on floppy disk.

It was hoped that the data, which was stored on two now-obsolete 12-inch laser discs, could be replicated and shown in museums, libraries, schools and universities across the UK.

However, the cost of using the laser disc format meant the technology was out of reach for many, and the project failed to take off.

'Very pleased'

But in April this year it was given a new lease of life when BBC Learning launched Domesday Reloaded - and posted all the original information submitted by the public online.

Over two million pages were viewed on the website's first day open to the public.

Visitors were invited to update the archive by adding text and pictures from 2011 to go alongside the original data.

Now the physical exhibit has been installed, it means the hopes of the project's creators have finally been realised.

"I think it's amazing. We're very very pleased," said Peter Armstrong, who led the original project and has worked on the touchtable.

"It's taken us a generation - 25 years later. A new generation of programmers made this happen."

Both the new and old contributions have been preserved in the touchtable - as well as at the UK Government Web Archive of The National Archives.

Oliver Morley, Chief Executive and Keeper at The National Archives said: "In 1986, the first Domesday project felt like it represented a digital future for its enthusiastic users.

"At The National Archives, our unmatched expertise in digital preservation will ensure that this future continues, and a significant part of social history is preserved and accessible as never before."

Next generation

Alongside the new technology, visitors at The National Museum of Computing can also get hands-on with the original Domesday Project set-up, as it was in 1986, on a BBC Micro computer.

The display forms part of a wider exhibit at the museum showing the history of the BBC's Computer Literacy Project.

Image caption,
The original Domesday Project data was collected on BBC Micro computers

Chris Monk, the museum's learning co-ordinator, believes teaching the originals of modern computing plays a very important role in inspiring Britain's next generation of coders and programmers.

"We've been showing two or three working authentic Domesday systems for over 12 months now and the interest has been huge.

"It's about getting the kids to see how it connects with today - otherwise they see it all as just old equipment. They see its place in history."

For Mr Armstrong, who went on to win a Bafta for his contributions to interactive media, the exhibition marks the end of a long battle to make sure the Domesday team's efforts were not in vain.

"I'm absolutely thrilled, I really am. The faint feeling of 'oh we did all that work, and now it's obsolete and no-one can see it,' is a terribly bad thing.

"The fact that now it's going to be right back in public display in such a wonderful place as Bletchley is terrific."

The exhibition is open to the public from Thursday, with another touchtable being put on display the the BBC's MediaCity in Salford.

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