Historian of the online digital revolution

David Carlson wants to make sure your grandchildren's children will know what it was like to have a Prodigy account back in the late 1990s. He also wants them to know who invented e-mail, how videotex worked, and how people first got online in, say, Spain. You can find answers to many of these questions at "David Carlson's Online Timeline" (http://iml.jou.ufl.edu/carlson/professional/new_media/).

Professor Carlson was founding editor of the Electric Trib of the Albuquerque Tribune in 1990, when it was one of two newspaper-operated electronic systems in the world. He is now director of the Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications in Gainesville.

"The reason I wanted to do the timeline is that I believe we are in significant danger of losing this chapter of publishing history," he says. "Online media has no atoms, no paper record. There are just bites and bytes."

"I wanted people in the future to know what it was like to use Prodigy at 2,400 k.p.s.," he says with a laugh (most dial-up lines today work at 56,600 k.p.s.).

Carlson's online timeline starts in the early '60s with the American launch of Medlars, the Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System, one of the world's first computerized information systems. But the launch of Sputnik was the real start of the digital revolution.

"Sputnik was the impulse for the creation of the Internet," he says. "Sputnik meant it would be possible for nuclear attack from outer space. And the way the American defense system was set up in those days, if you lost one command center,... your whole system went down. So it was out of a defensive posture that the military began to look at networked computing."

The history of online news distribution goes back earlier than one might think, Carlson says. Compuserve, he points out, started in 1969, and the first newspaper to offer an electronic edition, distributed over Compuserve, was The Columbus Dispatch in July of 1980.

Carlson is now looking to expand the scope of his timeline to include individual countries. "I'm interested in first Web papers in a country, but even before the Internet, systems like teletext or videotex." (If you have information, e-mail him at dcarlson@jou.ufl.edu.)

Tom Regan is the associate editor of csmonitor.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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