Being only slightly older than dirt, I am overcome from time to time by a nostalgia for technologies past. I still have my old manual typewriter somewhere in my basement, an Olympia portable typewriter acquired in college that served me well for many long years. I moved on to computers some time in the early 1980s and never looked back.
But my nostalgia at the moment is for what was a much newer, and, for a brief time, commercially successful form of computer technology - the CD-ROM encyclopedia. This wave of nostalgia was triggered by a marvelous column by Steve Smith for MediaPost's Mobile Insider blog called "The Revenge of the CD-ROM." Smith looks back at those early experiments in packing entire encyclopedias, complete with low-motion low-action videos, into what was then the unbelievably spacious memory of a CD-ROM.
I know what he means. Back in the early 1990s, I worked on one of those projects for the news organization where I was employed as a producer and writer. I researched and wrote a series of video reports for the CD-ROM about several different nations and the role they might be playing in the news of the day. With hundreds of megabytes available to us (how in the world could we ever fill all that space!), we were able to cram a lot of material - and some slow, jerky video - into a good, if instantly dated, reference package.
This was before the World Wide Web really took off, of course. When that happened, the CD-ROM was eclipsed, because information could be exchanged - and updated - instantly, rather than waiting a year or two for the next edition of your CD-ROM encyclopedia to come out. Read Steve Smith's piece - it captures a lot of the excitement of those early projects, and it looks at some of today's reference projects which really are successors to those old discs.