• Marianne Calilhanna

A Trip in the Wayback Machine: Data Conversion Laboratory 1997

Updated: Nov 6


The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine offers a refreshing step back in time. The archive is a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. To date there are 477 billion web pages saved! I find it thrilling to look back in order to see how far we've come. To this end, DCL is starting a Flashback Friday feature in which we'll explore websites meaningful to the industries we serve and the technological advances we've proudly helped to develop.


I took the machine all the way back to 1997---gas was $1.22 a gallon in the US and £2.70 in the UK, Great Britain handed back Hong Kong to China, we said goodbye to Princess Diana, and welcomed Harry Potter into our hearts and onto our bookshelves. The Internet was just a toddler and Netscape Navigator is how we got around.


At this point in time, DCL was already in the business of conversion for 16 years. Things were different in the conversion world back then. A major project at the time involved DCL taking it to the streets of New York, visiting First Federal Savings & Loan branches to convert a quarter million signatures into digital assets. By putting these signatures on-line, tellers could instantly bring up a customer's signature on a computer screen and validate it.


While we supported all major "electronic formats," some of the typical conversions comprised the following formats. You'll recognize some "good friends we've had and good friends we've lost along the way"

Both SGML and HTML certainly stand out as key markup languages in DCL's history. That perfect combination of timing, technology, people, and processes was happening in 1997 and SGML was ubiquitous in academic and scholarly publishing.


SGML had quite an impact on the folks working at DCL during this time. In fact, DCL was the first (perhaps only?!) organization to create a cartoon series about SGML:


The Adventures of Wizzy the Owl by Donald Zirilli:

"Welcome to the world's first cartoon series about SGML! And it's only available in cyberspace. If you don't see the SGML connection right away, keep reading. And keep coming back: there's a new episode every Friday morning. Each episode consists of three cartoons."

By the end of 1997, SGML was quickly transforming to XML and would become a W3C recommendation in February 1998. But Wizzy the SGML Owl spun many a yarn and (spoiler alert!) indeed saved the day for the King. You can follow all of Wizzy's escapades here.


Let's hope that one day we'll jump in the Wayback Machine to 2020 and say, "they just don't make years like that anymore! (thank goodness)."


In the meantime, do check out the Wayback Machine. Find that GeoCity you always wanted to visit!

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