Christian Heilmann

Great Tech History: The digital examiner – electronic newspaper from 1981

Monday, January 27th, 2014 at 11:46 pm

Imagine, if you will, sitting down to your morning coffee, turning on your home computer to read today’s newspaper.

This amazing news item from 1981 talks about an experiment of the San Francisco Examiner and other newspapers trying to offer their content in a digital format using a mainframe computer and a telephone connection:

Wired covered this gem in detail and had some interesting details around it.

What excites me most is the purity of the idea back then as mentioned in the interview:

This is an experiment, we’re trying to figure out what it is going to mean for us as editors and reporters and what it means to the home user. And we’re not in it to make money, we’re probably not going to lose a lot, but we aren’t gonna make much either.

The newspaper men tried to reach the two to three-thousand home computers owners back then printing full-page ads and got over 500 subscribers who “sent in coupons”.

The next big thing to me in here is the reaction of the subscriber – a man who waited two hours for the transfer of the newspaper text content at $5/hour call rate. He very much understood the implication that this means you can keep a copy of the paper for yourself and that you can only keep what you need without having to get it all and discard parts of it.

Isn’t it a shame that this amazing gift of publication and distribution and archiving by users of our services is now going back to closed ideas like paywalls and apps?

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