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Editorial 16th October 1993

With the Village coming up to its second birthday, a number of editors have been invited to put down their thoughts on the past, present and future of their areas, Silicon Village and this Viewdata medium in general.

That's the reason I find myself sitting at the keyboard to write probably only my second or third serious article in Carbuncle Corner.

The object of Carbuncle Corner is, and always has been, to raise a smile and a chuckle in this far too serious world.

Nick Harvey's Comment, which was the predecessor of the full Carbuncle area, started with exactly that objective some fifteen years ago as the spoken word on radio.  Christmas 1991 saw it change medium to become the written word in a Gallery.

Through 1992, a single page Gallery became an eleven page Gallery, all dedicated to Comment; then the full Carbuncle area you are in today, complete with Bert the Milkman and his mix of gossip and Village publicity.

The Correspondence Column and this Miscellany area were added at the same time as Bert, with The Old Groaner coming later.

As to the future of Carbuncle Corner, it has to be said that it's unlikely to grow very much bigger; mainly because of the limit of how much one person can create in a week.

However, the emphasis could change. Would you like more Comment and less Bert for instance?  Let me know if you have any strong views by keying 7 after you've read this piece.

As to my views on Silicon Village and the Viewdata medium itself, I think I have a little to say, having first used Post Office Viewdata, the original name for Prestel, well before its public launch.

The french got it right.  They put their telephone directory on a viewdata system and gave every telephone subscriber in the country a free terminal.

This made sure the french became "viewdata aware" and the medium took off both in business AND at home.

Unfortunately the British never really worked out what to do with viewdata.  The Post Office and then British Telecom could never decide whether to promote the medium for business or leisure.  While they weren't making up their minds, technology was racing forward.

All of a sudden the business world realised that personal computers had just become as cheap as the viewdata terminals they'd been considering for their data entry applications.  Nobody in their right minds wanted a forty column format when all the computer terminals and PC's worked in eighty column.

BT realised that Prestel had missed the boat and would have to change.

While all this had been going on, Micronet had been born as a leisure area on Prestel and the number of home subscribers had increased.

But BT now had a number of problems.   They'd been told by OFTEL, the telecommunications watchdog, to split the accounting of their business and residential divisions; and to stop cross-subsidising any one service from another.

They were therefore forced to finally make a decision on whether Prestel was a service for business or home.  As they didn't wish to upset a few business people who were using Prestel for niche business purposes, they put it into the business division.

This, together with the end of the cross-subsidisation, made no money available for the leisure services.

All the development money went into things like eighty column business gateways; and the leisure services were at first discouraged, then closed down.

Micronet was one of the casualties and Silicon Village, among others, was born.  But, I'm afraid, the key issue is still cross-subsidisation.  I'm not privy to any information, but I'll now make some guesses.

The computer centre and the networks used to access the Village are not constrained by any rules on profit transfer from one service to another.  This is why, in my view, Village is the only one of the services spawned on the closure of Micronet that is still running successfully and likely to continue.

Some of the facts about viewdata aren't very pleasant I'm afraid.

There simply isn't enough profit available in a leisure viewdata service for it to succeed totally alone.

There are still however, and are likely to be for the foreseeable future, enough niche business applications to keep viewdata alive and, above all, profitable.  The synergy between business and leisure applications is therefore essential.

The fact that our second birthday party on October 30th is also the tenth birthday of John Clarke Computing is most significant in my view.

Whilst I can only speculate at any cross-subsidy between John Clarke Computing and Silicon Village, after twenty-eight years in the computing and communications business, I think I know my subject.

Let the future for Carbuncle Corner, Silicon Village and Viewdata in general be rosy and let the way ahead be successful; but let's not forget that most important word, in my opinion, synergy.

Nick Harvey.


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