Viewing Knight-Ridder’s Online Adventure, via AT&T
“It sounds like something out of the 25th century, but it’s here now” — announcer, 1983.
From the AT&T Archives, here are two video views extolling the “synergistic” development of the future of online news, 30 years ago at Knight-Ridder: The Viewtron project.
AT&T was Knight-Ridder’s partner in the Viewdata Corporation, and its first video takes us into the Miami Herald building for a tour of the system with Viewdata Corporation’s President Albert J. Gillen, previously a senior vice-president at Knight Ridder.
The phrase “up to the minute news” is used, but the old-fashioned word “newspaper” doesn’t turn up much in his presentation, which goes into more detail on home-shopping, looking things up in online encyclopedias and making transactions with your E.F. Hutton account.
The AT&T Archive includes some background information on its YouTube page:
A second film has more to say about AT&T’s Sceptre TV-terminal hardware.
Viewdata began in Florida with a test market and grew to around 15 cities and 15,000 users, according to the AT&T text, which mentions that before the end the company had developed software that would allow IBM, Commodore and Apple computers users to access the system.
- ITWorld recapped the history of Viewtron in a short article about the videos on YouTube: Time Machine: Why didn’t Internet on TV take off in 1983?
- For a robust, if sometimes baud-rate-centric, discussion of the videos, see Slashdot: News for Nerds. More than 400 comments were logged in the first day of the discussion, including comparisons with the French Minitel system, predictable observations that porn might have saved Viewtron, and a 1982 article by a system architect arguing that powers-that-be rejected his plans for a more open community service, complete with hierarchies of editorial staffs (Videotex Networking and The American Pioneer, by Jim Bowery).
- From other archives: Your library’s access to The New York Times archive will give you more of this story, but it’s where I checked on Gillen’s title at Knight-Ridder Think Electronic, Publishers Urged (May 2, 1982):
The American Newspaper Publishers Association was warned last week to prepare for a day when the very notion of a news ”paper” may be outdated by information transmitted to video screens. ”If you don’t get into the business, someone else will,” said Albert J. Gillen, senior vice president of Knight-Ridder Newspapers, who was one of several speakers to sound the theme at the assocation’s meeting in San Francisco.
- For an even earlier view, here’s a 1980 InfoWorld magazine interview with Gillen:
“We made the decision to proceed for two reasons. First, defensively, this new media form could have a negative impact on the newspaper business. Second, offensively, we saw a new opportunity to take advantage of the abilities we already know how to use very well.”