In 1985 on a visit to London, I was introduced to a South African journalist living in exile, David Coetzee, who published a weekly bulletin on Southern African affairs called SouthScan. David was looking to publish SouthScanin the US where I was living. The traditional publishing route would have been too expensive for a small, specialist publication, so it was decided to use the Internet and electronic publishing instead.
I’d been running New York On-Line for a couple years by then and we discussed the possibility of creating not only a US print edition of SouthScan but also of an online, electronic version which would be published on New York On-Line and possibly, on other electronic publishing systems.
In those days, not only was the Internet still in its infancy technologically but perhaps most importantly, it was still an expensive medium used either by the state or by large corporations. As I pointed out in an earlier edition of FTFI, networking information outside the state or corporations was more of a hobby than anything else for those involved eg FidoNet.
But things were changing. A non-profit organisation based in the US, called the Association for Progressive Communications or APC had started up. It was one of the first online news and information networks outside of corporate ownership. Its mission was the creation of a global, non-profit information network that linked NGOs around the world via the emerging Internet. It had its own online system called PeaceNet with sister systems starting up in a number of countries including South Africa, where it was called SangoNet or South African Non-Governmental Network and in London it was called GreenNet.
So, in late 1985 we started to experiment with sending copy from London to New York via GreenNet/PeaceNet. Once the emailed copy arrived in New York, I would download the file, prepare it in a page layout programme and print out camera-ready copy on my newly acquired laser printer and output the finished publication on a high speed Xerox copier-binder and post it to our subscribers using snail-mail. On a good day, the entire process took about four hours including walking to the Post Office in downtown Brooklyn.
In reality, sometimes the emailed copy didn’t make it over or I only got bits and pieces. I had to make expensive transatlantic phone calls to David to try and figure out what had gone wrong. Sometimes PeaceNet/GreenNet wasn’t working right and the mail would just disappear completely and David would have to send the copy all over again, sometimes several times until I received the entire edition.
But despite all the problems, the process amounted to two revolutions. One, we were using Desk Top Publishing pretty well in the year it was invented and two, aside from publications like the Financial Times of London, nobody else was using the Internet and DTP as part of a total publishing process, from writing to delivery of the finished product on another continent.
Many of the stories that David received in London were also sent via Email from journalists in Southern Africa, Europe and later in the US as well as by fax. Interestingly, even when the West started to seriously implement Sanctions, they never touched the Internet, neither did the government in South Africa. They probably didn’t even consider its existence as at all important and it’s true that its development came a bit too late to become intrinsic to the liberation struggle in Southern Africa.
Today,it’s no big deal, we do this all the time, but back then (a mere 15 years ago) it was pushing the limits of the available technology at least for a small enterprise like SouthScan. But given the limited resources we had, SouthScan was a groundbreaking product, because we were setting the stage for the use of IT in liberation movements and not only in Southern Africa. And here I am, fifteen years later, doing essentially the same thing but now it works like a consumer product and in theory at least, it’s open to anyone with access to a Server as well as the Internet itself.
All content on this site is copyright © 1987-2003 William Bowles unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved. You have the right to reproduce content from this if it is not-for-profit, non-commercial use or for ‘fair use’. For commercial reproduction, please contact the copyright owner.