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The Importance of Connecting Editorial and Engineering in Teletext/Videotex adoption in the UK

Rowberry, Simon; (2024) The Importance of Connecting Editorial and Engineering in Teletext/Videotex adoption in the UK. SSRN: Amsterdam, Netherlands. Green open access

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Abstract

In the 1970s and 1980s, the United Kingdom was at the cutting edge of teletext and videotex development, with the former remaining an important part of British IT culture until it was switched off in 2012. Prominent public corporations including the BBC and the British Post Office (later partially spun off as British Telecommunications, or BT) invested heavily in infrastructure for Ceefax and Prestel respectively. Despite the rich culture that developed on these platforms, they are often footnotes in histories of the Internet and computing, overshadowed by the longer-term success of Minitel, the French equivalent of Prestel. There are two main reasons for this disappearance: First, internet histories have pivoted towards sociality online (for example, Kevin Driscoll’s work on the Modem World and Minitel ) that emphasises the ancestors of social media rather than more static text-based precursors to the Web. Second, there is a paucity of extant evidence of activity on teletext and videotex systems. Hobbyist groups who extract teletext data from video cassettes have been more active in preserving this content than institutional archives but there is a limit to their ability to reconstruct substantial bodies of material. Building upon archival research from the BBC Written Archives, Independent Broadcasting Association (IBA, an ancestor of OFCOM), Channel 4 and BT, as well as contemporary industry and academic discussions, in this paper I offer a revisionist history of these proto-Internet technologies that helped prime the British public for the arrival of the Web in the 1990s. Through case studies of the BBC’s Ceefax service, Channel 4’s 4-Tel, and BT’s Prestel, I explore the importance of integrating engineering prowess with effective editorial and content moderation policies.

Type: Working / discussion paper
Title: The Importance of Connecting Editorial and Engineering in Teletext/Videotex adoption in the UK
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: https://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4683639
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the version of record. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of Information Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10184616
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