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The BBC's Domesday project gets reborn online

The BBC has re-launched its Domesday initiative, 25 years after the original, with an on-line reincarnation - but for true connoisseurs of the height of eighties technology, there's nothing quite like working with the original hardware.

Back in 1986, the BBC had a brainwave: create a modern equivalent to the Domesday book, using community-sourced photographs and local detail - allowing people to look at a snapshot of their lives for years to come. These days, the closest equivalent would be Wikipedia - but for the BBC, it was a brave new world of 'multimedia' content combining the best of the news with user-generated text and images.

The Domesday team assembled the top dogs in the world computing market to create what was, at the time, a breakthrough information storage and retrieval system. Powered by a BBC Master microcomputer created by Chris Curry's Acorn Computers and storing its content on a LaserVision ROM disc - up to 324MB per side, no less - the systems were the pinnacle of 80s technology.

Sadly, they were still 80s technology - meaning that they quite rapidly broke down, leaving the carefully collected contents of 150,000 pages of text and 23,000 pictures inaccessible to most.

Gathering up some of the few remaining Domesday machines and a rare copy of the Domesday Community Disc, the BBC has been able to salvage the data and place it on-line - just in time for the 25th anniversary celebrations to take place. For many, it will be a trip back through time in a haze of nostalgia - and for others, a fascinating insight into a world remarkably far removed from our own.

There's only one true way of experiencing the Domesday project, however - and that's on the original hardware. Sadly, the kits are as rare as hen's teeth - and when they do come up for sale, almost never work. Thankfully, there's a solution: The National Museum of Computing.

Housed at Bletchley Park, home of the historic codebreakers of Station X, the Museum boasts a pair of fully-working Domesday systems - and makes them available for members of the public to use at any time, providing access to the material as it was originally intended to be seen.

"Visitors to the Museum often tell me that they contributed to the project over 25 years ago, but never had the opportunity to see their work," explained the Museum's education officer Chris Monk. "Now they can - on the original laser disc and Acorn BBC Master micro technology, as well as on the BBC website. They can experience the project exactly the way it was originally envisaged."

While the crowd-sourced 'Community' disc might not be seen as worth the travel to Bletchley, near Milton Keynes, for many now that the BBC has placed it on-line for all to enjoy, there's an extra treat for those who choose to seek out the Domesday machines in all their plastic and silicon glory: the 'National' disc.

Not part of the BBC's on-line recreation, the National disc includes thousands of images, statistics, and news articles from the BBC News of the time - including video footage culled from the broadcasts of the era.

Those who wish to see the on-line recreation of the project can simply visit the BBC's website - but for those who desire something a little more historic, the Museum's opening times are a good place to start.