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BBC Domesday Project Being Revamped

Posted by Big Boo on May 16th, 2011

BBC Domesday ProjectI received an e-mail from a kind fellow (thanks Darren!) the other day letting me know that the BBC Domesday Project was now available for viewing online, which got me quite excited since I had always wanted to have a play with it, but never had the opportunity.

What am I wittering on about? Well, the BBC Domesday Project was, at the time, a major endeavour by the Beeb to create a historical record of what life was like in the UK in 1986. The idea and name of the project came from the famous Domesday Book which had been compiled under order of William the Conqueror back in 1086 to show which landowners owned what (and therefore how much tax they needed to pay!).

Of course, the first thing I did was head over to Domesday Reloaded and look up my home town, and was surprised to find quite a bit of info on there, including a picture of a road not that far from me, and a piece of credit text saying that two of the primary schools that are within walking distance of my house contributed to the project. I wish my school had taken part…

The Domesday Project hardware was quite an advanced bit of technology for the time. The pictures and words detailing most of the towns and cities in the UK were stored on a special Laserdisc, which was connected to a BBC Micro and a trackball. The computer and trackball allowed the data to be accessed simply and easily, the idea being that this would be a great resource for schools and libraries. The data itself came from a variety of sources, but much of it was supplied by school children and other volunteers.

Unfortunately the cost of all this was too high for most schools, so ultimately not as many people saw the benefit of it as the creators would have liked. I certainly would have loved to have had a go on it, but sadly I never came across the system anywhere.

The good news though is that all this data has finally been sucked off the Laserdisc and popped onto the web so we can all have a go with it now. Ironically it has taken this long because working Laserdisc players are now so hard to come by, which kind of makes the original Domesday Book a winner in terms of standing the test of time. It is also rather ironic that such a big undertaking at the time has effectively been usurped big time by the Internet with things like Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth.

Fittingly, the online version is also allowing us to make updates, so if you fancy helping out you could always submit a picture of a place that was originally featured in the system to show what it looks like now. Head on over to the Domesday Reloaded site and take a look.

Many thanks to Darren for pointing this out to me, and if you want to read a bit more on the background of the Domesday Project head over to his Microcomputer website which has a lot of information on Domesday and Eighties computing in general. He also pointed me at the Domesday Special Interest Group, which he is setting up to allow people to keep up with the progress (and hopefully help out with) the continuing work on Domesday.

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