In 1985 British Airways promoted me to the grand position of Sales Information Officer. What did that mean? I don’t think anyone knew. I wasn’t sure myself.
In fact, we were a small department, a colleague and I, who had been recruited to develop the BA Prestel site into an online catalogue. Prestel was the British Telecom videotext system (like Ceefax and Oracle) but more flexible and responsive. 95% of UK travel agents used it to book package tours. BA decided that, as agents already used the system, it should develop its own site to sell scheduled air travel services to agents.
And so we set about developing what grew into a 7,000-screen online brochure with full details of the product illustrated by heavily pixelated diagrams and illustrations. I spent months creating fares tables and editing fare rules for every fare BA sold for travel from the UK to its worldwide destinations. I think the fares section ran to 2,000 pages.
What seemed amazing at the time was to be able to upload pages from our PC network (an IBM AT PC with a 20MB hard disk linked to two twin-floppy IBM XT PCs) via modem down an ordinary telephone line. It seemed magical that one second the page was on my PC and the next it was accessible for anyone to view on Prestel.
It all seemed so exciting. People could even send us messages, which we printed off on a thermal printer.
But Prestel was not the way forward. Few in the airline saw its potential and both my colleague and I eventually moved to other jobs in BA.
We had been 10 years too early. Later, as the internet developed and web sites appeared, I realised that we had built a massive web site before anyone knew what it was.
I also learned a lot about writing for the small screen, on-screen attention spans and other tips that would stand me in good stead as the world moved online.
It may have been crude compared with today’s technology, but it was exciting for us as we made the rules up as we went along.