A month ago I spent a stimulating lunch fantasising with Paul Reynolds about the future of Te Ara. This morning I hear with a brutal shock that Paul has died. Paul, I cannot believe that, living as you did in the digital world of instant messaging, you are not still listening. So here’s my tribute to you.
You were the great prophet of the digital world. On the lecture podium, on radio, in your blog, on Twitter, above all in your ever-enthusiastic presence, you gave us all a vision of the next turn in this digital journey. When we first conceptualised Te Ara, XML was your passion. Then came social media and the need to let audiences engage, talk to each other and answer back. Most recently when we talked, your enthusiasm was on a jointed up web and the need to make seamless links between a site like Te Ara and the other sites in the cultural/heritage space.
We did not always listen to you or follow your ideas, and no doubt we were the losers for it, but that never offended you. It did not stop your constant support or halt the flow of ideas. However antediluvian our site, you always believed in Te Ara, always looked for ways to improve it – always warm and generous in your plaudits for what we did, gentle and intelligent in pointing out where we should move. I look back at the blog you wrote after the launch of ‘Economy and the City’ on a wet night in Auckland in March, and there it is: a statement of admiration for the project, and then deft suggestions for a personalisation folder, for links, for more of a relationship with Wikipedia, for more use of creative commons. All good ideas beautifully put.
So we will miss you bad, Paul: that soft Scots lilt, those alert eyes, and that excitement for where the web was moving. We are all in your debt.
Ross Somerville writes:
It’s hard to believe that the exuberant and encouraging Scots voice is now silent: Paul Reynolds, who must without doubt have been able to claim to being New Zealand’s first internet guru, died suddenly at the weekend.
While Te Ara was still nothing more than an idea, Paul would hold court at an outside table at Wellington’s Astoria cafe, during his frequent visits to the capital. There in the early 2000s at a table covered in coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays, he would bail up librarians, IT geeks, CIOs and others to spread the word about the latest internet developments that had excited him, and to stress the benefits of his favourite topic, collaboration.
Paul was tireless in his quest to persuade collecting institutions and content providers to digitise their material, and work together to share standards and make it widely available.
Some of his visions were achieved; some are still ideas whose time has not yet come in an environment he must have found frustratingly slow-moving. But he did not cease encouraging us, and prodding us to go that step further.
His enthusiasm and encouragement will be very much missed.