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What is BBC Domesday?


The BBC Domesday Project was a landmark multimedia resource which was produced to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday book. School children and researchers from across the country collected together a massive amount of material which was recorded on two special Video Discs. A special hardware setup which included an expanded BBC Master and a LVROM player allowed the user to view the resource. BBC Domesday was fantasically innovative and it was organised on a scale which has not been seen since.

The Content

The Community Disc begins with a map of the UK which you can zoom in on and scroll around. School children contributed photographic and written information about their local area. Andy Finney, who worked on Domesday, describes it as "a wealth of information about life in Britain as seen by the British which it would be impossible to get from another source."

The National Disc collects together a wide variety of statistical data, images of the UK and its culture in an array of photosets, surrogate walks (an early form of virtual reality) and a substantial amount of moving video.

The Players

Over a million people took part in this ambitious project. BBC Domesday was produced by a collaboration between the BBC, Acorn, Philips and Logica. Information content was contributed to the community dics by thousands of school children from across the country. The National Disc was filled with data from many different researchers, photographers and scholars.

The Hardware

The BBC Domesday systemBBC Domesday runs on a BBC Master computer with several additional pieces of unusual hardware. The BBC Master was an 8 bit computer which saw great popularity along with the "BBC Model B" thoughout education in the UK and Australia in the mid 1980s. Inside the Master a SCSI card and co-processor board were added. A touchball was plugged in to the Master, along with a special kind of enhanced video disc player called an LVROM.

The Software

The BBC Domesday multimedia application was written in a language called BCPL. This was chosen in an attempt to give Domesday some cross platform compatibility. Unfortunately a number of patches were required to run the application on a RM Nimbus as a significant number of BBC calls were present in the original code. BCPL was not widely adopted, despite influencing the development of languages like C and Java.

The clever Domesday application software provides a multimedia front end to the mass of data stored on the video discs. Advanced search routines (believed to be a forerunner of Muscat), intuitive navigation and the ability to overlay different kinds of information in one view, made Domesday radically new in terms of interface design and as a powerful tool for its users.

The Data

A catalogue of the digital files on the Community disc (south side)Two kinds of data are stored on the Domesday discs. The image data is stored in an analogue format, one image per track of the video discs. The moving video data is stored in a similar way. Digital data stored on the "LVROM" discs includes textual, statistical and mapping data (along with the application software itself).

Further Information

  • Technical expert on the original BBC Domesday Project, Andy Finney, has written a fantastic web page detailing the achievements and experience that was BBC Domesday. This is highly recommended to anyone interested in the subject.
  • The "Binary Dinosaurs : Virtual Computer Museum" has a short piece on BBC Domesday and includes a selection of photos of the expanded BBC Master.
  • A number of further projects were produced by the BBC utilising the BBC Domesday hardware. Screenshots of these can be found here.
  • Robert McMordie tells the story of the history of Acorn computing, putting the BBC Domesday project in a technological context.
  • BBC Domesday is frequently used to illustrate the problems of digital obsolescence as Suzanne Keene's "Now you see it, now you won't" web site demonstrates.

Why preserve it?Why preserve it?

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