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Advances in textual markup methods were critically important for the simple reason that like
other software standards, the encoding of textual characters was frequently platform dependent
to a very high degree.This was especially true where characters beyond the "normal" range used
by English were concerned: even the encoding of common characters from other western Euro-
pean languages that were not part of the basic English character set could pose severe problems
when files were transferred from one computer and one software package to another. Once the
TEI had produced a workable standard for the encoding of texts through SGML, the time was
ripe for the birth of the world-wide Web, an event that would mark the beginning of the second
phase of emblem digitization efforts.
Before that milestone could be reached, however, a number of substantial obstacles in com-
puter storage and processing had to be overcome. During the 1980s, mass storage was extraordi-
narily costly by today's standards: even without making allowances for the effects of inflation, the
cost of disk storage has declined in the past fifteen years by four orders of magnitude, or a factor
of 10,000, from about $25/MB in the mid 80s to about 1/4 of a cent in today's terms. Given the
size of scanned images, the advent of cheap mass storage was critically important for the ability
of scholars to store large numbers of emblem pictures. Like disk storage capacity, processor speeds
have vastly improved and prices have dropped, resulting in a decrease of about three orders of
magnitude in effective cost.The much slower processors commonly available in the 1980s caused
large images to display far more slowly than is now the case, even where scholars were able to
store emblem pictures.
A final area of technological challenge in the first phase of emblem digitization lay in the area
of network communications. Relatively very few computers were networked at that time; this
was particularly true where high-speed networks were concerned.Very slow (300-1200 bps) dial-
up connections were the norm, so that even scholars who had managed to create prototypical
visual databases found themselves unable to share them.This was all the more true because of the
limitations of removable disk media, whose capacity at that time seldom exceeded 1MB.Although
the first CD-ROM drives began to be used toward the end of this period, the ability to create,
or "burn" one's own CDs did not arrive on the scene until much later. Even the physical trans-
fer of visual materials through the mails thus encountered technological hurdles.
The first phase of emblem digitization was thus characterized by sporadic efforts to create the
first visual databases of emblematic material, but these efforts were hampered by proliferating
incompatible hardware and software standards especially where image file formats were con-
cerned, lack of any suitable method of compensating for the difficulties inherent in encoding
non-English texts, the high cost, difficulty of production and relatively low quality of the scanned
images themselves, the relatively high cost of mass storage media, insufficient processor speeds,
and the lack of high-speed networks. Between 1993 and 2003, these problems essentially disap-
peared as standards converged, prices dropped, and speeds rose dramatically, and high-speed world-
wide computer networks emerged.
J
ust as the release of the Apple Lisa may be taken as the seminal event for the first phase of
emblem digitization, so does the first release of NCSA Mosaic in 1993 mark the beginning of
the second phase.
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While command-line browsers had existed prior to the release of Mosaic, the
advent of a GUI browser catapulted the World Wide Web to a new position of prominence in the
world of personal distributed computing, and revolutionized the ways in which scholars, among
others, thought of the computer. Rather than as a tool for the storage of information belonging
to an individual, the computer began to be seen increasingly by scholars as an instrument of com-
munication that could enable the sharing of information over world-wide networks. For the first
time, it became possible to think in terms of a distributed network of digitized emblem books
14
The title of the page http://www.
cedmag ic.com/history/mosaic-
1993.html is significant:"1993:The
Graphical WWW is Born with the
Release of NCSA Mosaic."
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