Posts tagged ‘Altavista’

Searching for Murray Smith


Earlier today Strangers, the 1978 TV series created by Murray Smith, came to mind. Smith created and wrote many episodes of one of my favourite TV series, The Paradise Club (which to this day has no DVD release due to the music rights), and penned an entertaining miniseries Frederick Forsyth Presents (the first time that I noticed one Elizabeth Hurley) and a novel I bought when I first spotted it, The Devil’s Juggler. He also wrote one of my favourite Dempsey and Makepeace episodes, ‘Wheel Man’, which had quite a few of the hallmarks of some of his other work, including fairly likeable underworld figures, which came into play with The Paradise Club.
   Yet there’s precious little about Smith online. His Wikipedia entry is essentially a version of his IMDB credits with some embellishments, for instance. It doesn’t even record his real name.
   Don’t worry, it’s not another dig at Wikipedia, but once again it’s a reflection of how things aren’t permanent on the web, a subject I’ve touched on before after reading a blog entry from my friend Richard MacManus. And that we humans do have to rely on our own memories over what’s on the ’net still: the World Wide Web is not the solution to storing all human knowledge, or, at least, not the solution to accessing it.
   It’s easy to refer to the disappearance of Geocities and the like, and the Internet Archive can only save so much. And in this case, I remember clearly searching for Murray Smith on Altavista in the 1990s, because I was interested in what he was up to. (He died in 2003.) I came across a legal prospectus of something he was proposing to do, and because it was a legal document, it gave his actual name.
   Murray Smith was his screen name, and I gather from an article in The Independent quoting Smith and his friend Frederick Forsyth, he went by Murray, but the family name was definitely Murray-Smith. Back in those days, there was a good chance that if it was online, it was real: it took too much effort to make a website for anyone to bother doing fake news. My gut says it was George David Murray-Smith or something along those lines, but there’s no record of that prospectus online any more, or of the company that he and Forsyth set up together to make Frederick Forsyth Presents, which I assume from some online entries was IFS Productions Ltd. Some websites’ claim that his name was Charles Maurice Smith is incorrect.
   Looking today, there are a couple of UK gazette entries for George David Murray Smith (no hyphen) in the armed forces, including the SAS in the 1970s, which suggest I am right.
   Even in the age of the web, the advantage still lies with those of us who have good memories who can recall facts that are lost. I’ve often suggested on this blog that we cannot fully trust technology, and that there’s no guarantee that even the official bodies, like the UK Companies’ Office, will have complete, accessible records. The computer is a leveller, but not a complete one.

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Wide of the mark


Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, e.g.:

   Anyone alive during this period will be wondering, ‘Where’s Altavista?’
   Just on visitor numbers, as opposed to visits per month, they were doing 19 million daily in 1996, 80 million daily in 1997. Goodness knows how many searches we were doing per day. Yet they are nowhere to be seen on this animation till December 1997, with 7 million monthly visits. If you were anything like me, you were using Altavista countless times a day—even conservatively, say you went on four times daily, and you were one of the 80 million per day, you would be putting Altavista at 9,600 million visits per month, dwarfing AOL and Yahoo. By 1997–8, we weren’t using directories like Yahoo for search, we were using these newfangled search engines. Google only overtook Altavista in 2001 in searches.
   And I am old-fashioned enough to think this channel should be called Data Are Beautiful, not Data Is Beautiful.
   I’d love to know the sources: not only could I remember clearly Altavista’s position (and Alexa had them in number one as well), it took me no time at all to confirm my suspicions through a web search.

Above: A re-created Altavista home page from 1999.

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