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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 March 2007, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
I remember when all this was 'cranky'
BBC site 1998
Going back to 1998, when even chancellors looked younger
Journalist Dave Gilbert is hanging up his hat after 13 years working in online news - much of it with the BBC website. But before he goes, he can't help but marvel at how the net has gone from an eccentric side project to being at the heart of all modern newsrooms.

I recently discovered that Jay-Zed is nothing of the sort. The popular, long-standing rap star is, of course, pronounced Jay-Zee. My colleagues here at the BBC News website were too helpless with laughter to enlighten me straight away but it left me in no doubt that I had been cast adrift from youth culture.

It's uncomfortable being reclassified as a dinosaur, but on the timeline of internet journalism I really can trace my roots back to the Jurassic period.

Today, we expect instant news to be delivered in text, pictures and video to our mobile devices as well as our desktop computers. And you, the readers, have also become newsgatherers, supplying your own material and views to complement our endeavours.

A generation of internet users have never known anything different, but it's a scenario I couldn't have imagined when I began as a cub reporter more than 20 years ago, armed only with a notebook, shorthand and occasional use of a delivery van.

My conversionary zeal was not shared by my colleagues. Most glazed over every time I mentioned the buzzword "internet" and some thought it was a cranky fad
Hot metal - a method of typesetting that dated from the 19th Century - was just being taken out the door, to be replaced with computers and on-screen page make-up.

But that was just the warm-up act for the revolution that was to follow. The first web page I ever saw was a site detailing the paintings in the Louvre. A friend thought I might be interested in seeing what she described as a "deluxe computer messaging system accessible via the telephone network".

The year was 1994 and it was my Eureka! moment. The internet allowed publishers to display words and pictures just like we did on papers, but without waiting for a print run or a painfully slow delivery system. They weren't compromised by lack of space and they were threatening to offer broadcast material - on demand and at any time.

My conversionary zeal was not shared by my colleagues. Most glazed over every time I mentioned the buzzword "internet" and some thought it was a cranky fad.

Good question... still

The shrewdest comments came from the newspaper advertising executives who wondered where the revenue would come from. It's a question some are still asking.

A screen grab of an early edition of the Electronic Telegraph
How the web used to be - an early edition of the Telegraph
In 1995 the CNN website was already up and running but rival newspapers the Daily Telegraph and the Times were the first major players in the UK to go online and it was at those embryonic sites I started working.

The broad horizon we gazed at now seems absurdly myopic. At the pioneering Electronic Telegraph we could only use a minimal number of small pictures, and hot-linking was such a novelty that diversionary links sprouted everywhere. These were the days before broadband. Download speeds were glacial.

The idea was to reproduce an online edition of the newspaper but using the medium to provide added value. But with the resources we had, delivering a rolling news service - today a given for any serious online news provider - wasn't possible.

The idea of breaking a news story was a tantalising prospect that seemed just out of reach. In the early days there were only four journalists managing the output, working graveyard shifts next to the obituaries department.

But it was the time of Cool Britannia, London was buzzing with Britpop and we were all energised - aware we were building the first new thing in newspapers since the wishy-washy attempts at colour printing a generation before.

Dated in a decade

Derek Bishton, then editor of the Electronic Telegraph, had a wider vision beyond simply reproducing an online edition of the newspaper and recalls the excitement of the time.

We clocked very early on that it was about a global audience, audience response and encouraging feedback - Web 2.0 in fact
Derek Bishton, former editor of the Electronic Telegraph
"We clocked very early on that it was about a global audience, audience response and encouraging feedback - Web 2.0 in fact," he recalls. "We were doing things that people now take as staples. We were able to experiment in a way that we couldn't now, but we didn't have the technical support and the consumers didn't have the kit."

Today, Telegraph journalists consider the web as an integral part of their job and work in a modern news hub serving both platforms.

When the BBC launched its own news site in 1997, it was a step up to what had gone before but those early stories also look sadly archaic. Just look at this animated graphic on global warming which I helped to prepare, and now looks so dated.

For nearly a decade the BBC news website has been in constant revolution as new ideas and software are exploited, delivering more services to an ever-expanding audience.

Global audience

Our readers have grown with us, seamlessly upgrading their technology, contributing their own pictures and views... and instantly chiding us when we get it wrong.

Dave Gilbert
When I'm asked where it's going next I have to say - and you're not going to like this - I don't really know
Dave Gilbert
The audience has never felt closer or more immediate. People buy newspapers for a host of reasons but reporters never know how many read their own stories.

From our real-time statistics, I know exactly what the audience is reading, and the feedback is almost instantaneous.

We have come to expect that when a story breaks anywhere in the world, someone will have a picture, an eyewitness account or video footage which they can send from their mobile phones.

As Web 2.0 enters adolescence, it feels that the internet really has come of age. Until recently, there seemed to be a natural progression in web evolution. We knew certain developments were going to happen - the only question was how long it would take for the technology, readers or line speed to catch up.

Now all bets are off. Broadcasters use computers to deliver content, TV stations are adding radio stations, newspapers have become broadcasters, and news is being prepared and delivered by relatively new companies.

When I'm asked where it's going next I have to say - and you're not going to like this - I don't really know.

The people who do, and are going to drive this site and its competitors through the next evolutionary step, are those who are ready to embrace change with vigour. And doubtless they'll be more familiar with the popular, long-standing rap star Jay-Z.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I remember the watershed moment in Internet based news, the 11th of September 2001. I was working in London at the time, and as the news of the first air crash arrived, the first instinct was to turn on the radio, the second to access the BBC news website. All I can remember from that awful afternoon was the news slowly building up about all the things happening in the states.....and being unable to access most news websites, the BBC included. Sky news was the most accessible, even then only sporadically throughout the day. I came to realise that finally the internet had been seen as the news medium it always promised to be, and that millions of people were all realising the same thing at the same time and therefore dragging the news websites down to a crawl. Since then I have never had a problem accessing a news website, whether to witness the Boxing day Tsunami or the 7/7 bomb attacks. The news industry has come to realise that the Internet is it's backbone in up-to-the-minute reporting, and has finally supported it as it deserves.
Kev R, Cheltenham, UK

I too started in the Jurassic era within a rival left-of-centre newspaper's online 'lab'. At that time, the night shift of 4 selected just a few stories from each page. The headlines became the left-hand navigation and each had to be edited to a certain number of characters. The technology and editing tools had progressed to such a level that, by 2000, just four of us were able to upload the entire paper and repurpose all stories with links, graphics and images across the whole network. Unfortunately, the intense production methods led to severe RSI... and for me, that was that!
Andrea, West Yorkshire

I always thought it was Jay-Zed... and I'm only 21...
Edd,

A mere child, my lord: I was in computing in 1962. And yes, I was indeed running a Linotype at the time. Dong - tschiss - splutch - the lead in the air must have had some effect, methinks.
Jel, Swansea

I remember those first editions of the Electronic Telegraph and how glad I was to have news online at last. So, thank you to Dave and his compatriots for pioneering it all back then. And good luck for whatever you wind up doing next.
Rory Choudhuri, UK

Never stop learning, it keeps the heart young despite what the less experienced say. Enjoy and get a few free lunches out of them.
Candace, New Jersey, US

I too have had a similar experience. I started online in 1994, working within BT at Martlesham in Suffolk to spread the gospel of HTML, the intra/internet and all that good stuff. I was sat on the end of the fastest line into the UK - approx 2Mbit/s. I moved away from the coal face for a few years after the tech crash, becoming a content consumer rather than a content creator, but in the last 12 months I have come back to the web as a private project. What I have found has changed beyond all recognition. I'm confronted by Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, and a hundred other services that we would have avoided like the plague at the time of the crash. And the days of hacking together a page in notepad are gone too. While I could quite happily code in frames (yuck!) and have roll-over buttons (ooh, funky!), now to get a halfway decent page I've had to download and install blogging software (Wordpress) and apply different styles until I've found one I like. God help me if I ever try to customise it. I suddenly feel very old, and I'm still a few years off 40. Technical experience is worth nothing in the web world, because the web of 1994 - or even 2000 - is of no greater relevence today than the manual typewriter.
Chris, Chester, UK

It is people like your self that drove the web to where it is today...because you understood it as a medium and understood the audience. This is where Web 2.0 comes from...doing it with a feedback loop from users...which is really web 101. Not a slogan but an action. Bring on web 4.0 I say.
Web 4.0, London UK

It is still cranky. After 13 years you still restrict the width to 800 pixels. Cranky, eccentric, or just ignorant of proper design.
Anon,

BBC News has consistently been at the front of the online news world, for quality, content and design. I honestly believe this is the best designed site on the Internet today - the way it can accommodate so many variant users, including many disabled visitors, is superlative, and I've studied many sites during the course of my Internet Technology degree. The Internet is very much the next revolution. Already it's hard imagining a life before this vast conglomerate of information, and it feels like the revolution has hit, but this is just the beginning. For the first time in centuries, information is out from the control of the authorities; content and creation has passed back to the masses, and is shared by us all. We circumvent our leaders and official channels as we communicate with real humans every day; we circumvent multinationals as we spread the content we want to see; and most importantly of all, for the first time since humanity exploded into such a grand scale society, we can circumvent all geographical and natural barriers to become a united race again. The last 100-150 years of entertainment has been a blip, an anomaly as the industries formed. The Internet is what will truly turn us into an artistic civilisation.
Matt Dovey, Skegness, England

I think you'll find that the first, and still the best, UK newspaper website was from the Guardian
Dominic Collard, London

Stop patting yourselves on the back? Who cares that some old hack is leaving your staff? Stop being so far up your own backsides for a change and report real news!
Anon,

It is good to have an opinion/view from someone who has experinced this change in a very central way, and chosen to share his views with us. the change is amazing once u start to think about it!
chris, boston

It's very much thanks to you and your colleagues on the BBC news website that I can read, listen & watch more or less as the news breaks. I also share your look back on how technology has changed in such a short space of time: downloading video by telephone I must have been more patient than I realised. Good luck for the future.
Mike Holliday, Wirral

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