ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The History is Everywhere and Nowhere —

The most interesting statement I get from people when they tell me about their history is how “it’s all gone now” and “everything is different now”. I find it interesting because it’s entirely untrue, but it belies another related issue: finding content, and finding relevant content.

My secret trick for dealing with search engines is to find the “secret word”, a strange spell of words and terms that, when together, indicate that very thing you’re looking for, without naming that thing. If finding hidden and lost locations is your thing, it’s not obvious on the face that you actually might want to use the words Urban Exploration” which will give you a variety of sites of startling complexity about the art of Urban Speleology. But for all that easy work, there are a thousand other amazing related nuggets that you have much less chance of stumbling onto.

And such it is with historical stuff. While I may be (relatively) prominent for what I’ve done so far, there are now hundreds of people doing the exact same thing I’m doing, on a smaller or different scale. They’re providing collections and directories and very-hard-to-negotiate or misguidedly-HTML-converted libraries. (Oh, and I should point out that a bunch of these were doing this collecting before arrived in 1998, so I’m no pioneer.)

Which is why I’m sending you a warning shot about my own idea of what will become the future: TOSEC.

It’s not important that TOSEC stands for The Old School Emulation Center any more than Coleco stood for Connecticut Leather Company. What’s important is that TOSEC, in trying to keep track of thousands of game ROMS, ended up creating this great naming convention for the games in question. They ended up creating a program called TUGID (The Ultimate Game Information Database) to keep track of the resulting ROM lists. Other programs also have risen do use those databases and keep distribution in check. Over time, this naming convention has been taken in by an awful lot of people to keep track of what can be tens of thousands of little, mysterious programs gotten from all over the place.

Through their use of a unified name setup and the MD5 hash of the resultant named file, TOSEC has removed a lot of the need for specific clearinghouses of available programs and ROMs, making it that you can just download a few hundred megs of what-have-you from the internet at large, shove it through these programs, and out on the end comes the 5 percent you didn’t have and the 95 percent you did goes quietly away. Now, when a database is brand spanking new, you might not want that, but down the line, the database grows and starts to envelop a given known quantity, like Atari Magazines or Commodore Demos. And it provides that important line in the sand for anything resembling a standard to come out of collecting.

What I’m getting at, is that over time it allows a lot of incoming digital data, whether it be songs, screenshots, digitized articles, CD-ROM images, captured video, or what have you to get a standard name and an associate MD5. It allows the often sewer-pile-like collections that show up on some peer-to-peer networks to have a field day with renaming files or bathing them in misclassifcation, because ultimately your TOSEC program will make them squeaky clean. Sure, between now and then there might be some naming convention besides TOSEC, and it might seem different, but this is it, this will take collections away from specific websites and set them loose, floating, on a hundred thousand hard drives and passing from person to person like a treasured book or a special memento. It’s very exciting.

Well, for people like me.

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