Friend of CT, Andrew Brown, dug this memo out on the occasion of the 30th birthday of the World Wide Web, a few weeks ago.

This memo was sent in June 1994 to Sergio Cellini, who was, iirc, the chief advertising man at the Independent then. I was both the religious affairs correspondent and the editor of a weekly computer page.

It was headed “Cheap advertising for the paper: outmanoevering[1] the Guardian”

The Guardian is vigorously attacking the market for science and computer journalism.

Amongst other things, it has formed a link with Compuserve, the largest commercial provider of electronic information to home computers in the world. Compuserve has more than 2m customers and is growing fast. Any of these will be able to read selected articles from the Guardian, write to specialists there, and talk amongst each other.

We can’t afford the investment of time or money to do that.[2] But we can be smarter.

I propose that we experiment in distributing a weekly edition of the paper [3] over the Internet, a global computer network with at least 20m users, of whom 30,000 are in this country. It is possible to rent space on a sort of electronic billboard for less than
£75 a month.[4] That amount of space would enable us to make available practically the whole text of a whole week’s newspaper if we wanted to. I propose instead that we simply put together a sampler of interesting and amusing articles each week, perhaps
with some of our better photographs.[5]

This would be accessible from almost anywhere in the world for the price of a local phone call.

It would be much easier to read and more attractive to look at than whatever the
Guardian does with the relatively archaic technology offered by Compuserve. It would, however, be entirely separate from the paper’s own computer systems, so that there could be no security risk.

Unlike Compuserve, the Internet is not commercial. It is not even an organisation. It is a loose global association of co-operating networks, most of which were developed to link universities, using Government funding. Until recently it was extraordinarily
difficult for amateurs to use. However, a new program called the World Wide Web makes the Internet astonishingly easy and simple to navigate.

Demon Systems, who are the most successful suppliers of Internet services to the consumer market in this country, have just started to rent out “Pages” on the World Wide Web. We could have one running within four days[6] of a decision, for a £50 set-up fee and a modest monthly rental. As things stand at present, we would make no money, except indirectly. But Demon are working on ways to do business over the Internet in future, so that browsers could fill in a form on-screen and order back issues, or other merchandise, from us using their credit cards.[7]

In the meantime, we would be given a weekly report on how many people accessed the service, which would give us a clear idea of how large the potential market is.

Obviously all newspaper will have to move into this sort of market eventually. Doing it through Demon now allows us to do so quickly, cheaply,and flexibly.

[1] I still can’t spell that word
[2] These were the long years of the Independent’s commercial retreat
[3] I dunno: maybe call it “The Guardian Weekly” or something like that.
[4] This is hard to believe, but I will have checked the figure with Demon. In retrospect it is unlikely they had anything like the capacity.
[5] Might actually have been feasible, since we printed in black and white
[6] The old Indie had put together a printed Saturday godslot in three days from when I put the idea to Andreas WS (without having commissioned anyone, so that was fun). The Guardian, fifteen years later, took nine months to build a section of Comment is Free, web only, for religious matters.
[7] Though this was sent to the advertising manager, the idea that we could sell ads on the web had not occurred to anyone. The paper was to be an advertisement for itself

Late to a really great party

by Maria on April 4, 2019

Book thread: Henry’s yesterday about Linda Nagata also mentioned Robert Charles Wilson’s ‘Spin’, a thoroughly brilliant novel I feel like the last person in the world to have read. Mysteriously, an unread copy of it had been shuttling back and forward between my ‘shelve’ and ‘chuck’ piles – neither Ed nor I had bought it. I picked it up last month and my delight in reading it was only very slightly marred by a wish that I’d read it long ago, especially before other books that are essentially paler versions. That reminded me of one of my aunts who pressed Middlemarch on me when I was 18. For reasons I can’t defend, I only actually read the book at about 40. Greater regrets with this one, because it really does feel like one of those books you read repeatedly through life, concentrating on or being open to different aspects corresponding to how we all change and grow. (and also shrink)

Then I’m reminded of a very dear friend who’d never read a Russian novel. Oh, the evenings we spent, asking ‘But Anna Karenina, you must have read that? No? Really none? How about Crime and Punishment?” Then a couple of years ago it turned out he’d gone away in between times and has basically now read every classic Russian novel ever translated into English.

So, shoot. What books have you resisted for years, that turned out to be just as brilliant as everyone had said?