The Domesday project – or how we did computer mapping in 1986

When Google launched its Street View map service in 2007, viewing maps as we knew it changed forever. The foundation for a lot of the thinking behind this handy tool was actually laid back in 1984 when the BBC, Acorn Computers, Logica and Philips teamed up to create the Domesday project.

The Domesday project was an ambitious idea, designed to create a computer based survey of the United Kingdom, using their 1981 census, maps, color photos and video – long before anyone had heard of the term “multimedia”.

In total, over one million people participated in creating the content. To browse the country, you accessed data off a Laserdisc, quite revolutionary for the time, especially since it stored a whopping 300MB – a lot of data when the average hard disk at the time was no larger than 20MB.

Controlling the Domesday system was done with a trackball, and users could select portions of the country, view photos and load video segments. The video even included some virtual reality features, another phrase nobody was using at the time, and long before virtual reality became a common term thanks to the 1992 movie “The Lawnmower Man”. Unlike current online mapping tools, the Domesday Project only displayed a couple of photos per mapped grid of the UK, but it was still more than anything anyone had ever done before.

But perhaps the most interesting part of the whole project is that it shows how vulnerable our data can be – in 2002, fears arose about the future of the Domesday Laserdiscs, and a project was started to transfer the content to a more reliable storage medium.

As fascinating overview of the technology and its challenges can be found here.

[Photo from Flickr/ljw]