Sunday, October 02, 2005

The New Product News

The newswire on AOL was ultimately called the New Product News, as mentioned in an earlier posting. Being a programmer, I was writing all sorts of programs to make the work easier to handle the news flow. Early on I developed a standard text file format that could easily be converted to whatever format was needed for each news distribution platform.

Basically there was a standard three line header at the start of every file that identified the major news category and the actual article title. My programs would then convert all the articles I was ready to publish for each of the online services - AOL, Delphi, BBS Press Service, etc. Some services wanted free flowing text that would be formatted online so there couldn't be any imbedded carriage returns or line feeds within each paragraph. Others wanted fixed formatted text within a certain line length with the associated carriage returns and line feeds. So my tools had to do some reformatting of the text besides creating the article header info for the upload control files. Sure beat typing things online like in the past.

For all my news distributions the articles were typically categorized within 16 news groups:

Software News

  • Business & Productivity Software
  • Professional & Engineering Software
  • Personal & Educational Software
  • Games & Entertainment Software
  • System Software & Utilities
  • Miscellaneous Software

Hardware News

  • PC Systems
  • Hardware Expansion Products
  • Peripherals
  • LAN/WAN Networking Hardware
  • Macintosh Specific Hardware
  • Miscellaneous Hardware

General Interest News

  • Books & Publications
  • Online & Internet Related News
  • Miscellaneous News

Besides making it easier to find specific news articles of interest this arrangement also helped keep more news online for a longer period of time. Each news group had a maximun number of articles that could be present, with older articles scrolling off the newswire. So by breaking them up this way, more of the articles stayed online longer.

Besides the main newswires, I also saved all the news articles distributed each month and put together a news archive at the end of each month that was distributed on the internet. Again I wrote a program that combined all the articles into an easy to access news archive with an index. I started with standard text files, with a simple text index in a standard zip archive file. Later I added an html index that could be used with any web browser. Plus I even created a WinHelp version of the news archive as well. For the WinHelp version I wrote another program that created the input code for the WinHelp compiler and then ran the standard compiler to create the final standard WinHelp file.

Both news archive files were uploaded to various download libraries (like SIMTEL and others) each month as sort of a way to help publicize my newswire and also attract more news input. I just recently found copies of all my old news archive files and have one of the later ones available for anyone interested in seeing what they looked like. You can click on the following links for a copy of the June 1997 news archive in text format or the WinHelp format (which you'll need to download and view on a Windows system). The text format news archive is a standard zip archive file with separate text files for each article. Just open one of the index files to start, either the text file (index.txt) or the html file (index.htm) with your web browser. The WinHelp file should be directly useable on any Windows operating system. These files are about 4MB in size!

By the way, the original name of the WinHelp news archive was WinNews but Microsoft objected and I wound up having to change the name a few months after I started distributing those files. It just wasn't worth fighting Microsoft's legal team even though I knew I was the first to use that name. Anyway, you still might find a few of those early files floating around the internet somewhere, I think there are still a few files on SIMTEL and other archive sites.


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