By Umesh Shrestha
In this age of social media, we can not even imagine life without internet. Online news portals are mushrooming. News is everywhere on net. Internet is like basic necessity for us nowadays. But those were the days of Rajpal era that internet is such a precious and costly thing. I think most of people unaware of this fact that even before the white house email was created ([email protected] was created in 1993), and even before launch of world’s first browser, we had our own online magazine called The Nepal Digest (TND). With “hours and hours of editing” a part-time Lecturer and full-time computer scientist engineer at Northern Illinois University Rajpal published TND’s first issue in April 1992. I took this interview as part of my M.A. thesis on the topic of Nepal’s online media and its interactivity. Well, he was very busy person. It took more than 6 month to complete this interview. But I am happy that finally I was able to document the history with this interview. Following is unedited version of interview.
Along about 1990, after the ‘revolution,’ in Nepal, and with the restoration of democracy, there was this euphoria! I could feel it from my friends all the way in the U.S. It was a hopeful time. I wanted to bring some form of expression to this ‘feeling.’ I wanted to empower the people in some way. I had been an editor of a printed social publication, thus I immediately thought of print, although it turned out to be too expensive! I was looking around for a solution, when I thought of e-mail, the Internet… That was April, 1992. I did a few mass mailing to solicit some kind of response. The idea immediately caught fire! I remember I’d get 10 to 15 subscriptions per day and that grew to twenty-five! Within one year we had 1,200. (Source: On December 10, 1998 issue of the The Nepal Digest, there was an interview with Singh taken by F.A.H/’Hutch’/Dalrymple)
The basic thesis or the epiphany (if you will) that came to my mind during the time of euphoric revolution in Nepal was that “Democracy perishes amongst the silent crowd”. This quote or sentence or realization just emerged in my heart and started to bother me and led me to find a way where “crowd would not stay silent” because a platform called “The Nepal Digest” was going to be born. Since then, I always put this quote (my own crafting you could say) in every issue of “The Nepal Digest” as a reminder to myself that if the crowd were to stay silent in a society, then that society will loose its democracy.
What is the exact date you publish TND’s first issue ? How did you distribute that issue ? Can you remember how did you gather matter for that ? Do you have first issue ? Can you please forward me ?
April 1992 was Volume I Issue I (the first issue).
The news magazine called “The Nepal Digest” was distributed online via the internet into every individual’s inbox about 2 to 3 times a week in the beginning.
News clips were submitted by members. The editor (Rajpal J. Singh) also uploaded various news about Nepal available in various media format with proper citation. A lot of it simply was dedicated manual work.
First issue was titled “The Nepal Digest Year 1 Volume 1 Issue 1″ and was published in April of 1992. I don’t have electronic copy of it. I am still searching for this historic issue.
As far as I know, you were working at University of Illinois at that time. After few months of publication, students at the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) at the University of Illinois develop Mosaic, the first browser software. How did it impact your publication ?
I was working as a part-time Lecturer and full-time Computer Scientist Engineer at Northern Illinois University. I had done by B.S. and M.S. both at this university back then.
While I was working / teaching at Northern Illinois University, I was also NIU’s contact for all SuperComputing access at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Yes. Mark Andreeson and other students and professors were working on Mosaic. I remember downloading this software and being amazed at it. You have to remember, back then, more people had access to email but very few people had access to Mosaic – a web browser. The impact was coming (future) but at that time, an email direct to someone’s inbox was very powerful because it was emotionally fulfilling to receive a fresh email back then.
As Mosiac caught on – we started to publish “The Nepal Digest” on web servers as well.
TND’s www address was changed frequently. First it was on nepal.org then thenepaldigest.org..What is exact date when TND was available in www and in which address ?
First website for “The Nepal Digest” was www.nepal.org
What software you used to maintain email list ?
It was UNIX operating system software called Mailer-Daemon.
Can you please elaborate the process of publishing an issue of TND ?
Very manual. Hours and hours of editing. ”The Nepal Digest” was my first love so I don’t think I ever felt like it was tiring work. It always felt very gratifying in every way to work on each issue. It was almost like a possessed love affair.
How did people interact through TND ?
They would post a question in one issue and answer would come back in next or subsequent issue.
Did you distribute TND in soc.culture.nepal newsgroup too ? I heard that it was started in 1989. How did it help TND ?
Yes. Mr. Rajendra P. Shrestha started posting a copy of TND on the USENET medium as well.
It helped TND because we started to get more requests for direct subscriptions.
Did you remember rivalry between The Kathmandu Post and TND ? TKP even suspended their web publication accusing its content being copied. How did it sorted out ?
There really was no rivalry. I believe TKP wanted to make sure its news-clips had proper citation which we started to provide clearly and there was no issues after that. All sources for original clips were always properly cited whether it came from TKP, Newswire, AP or Xinuha or others.
Would you please tell the about email list ? Like approximate size, location etc.
I think within few months of launching of TND back in April 1992, the subscription list had reached over 1200. I remember it would take hours for the UNIX server to process the distribution of 2500 lines TND to each subscriber of 1200 users.
I am bit confused about the date TND stopped its operation and then begin again and finally stopped.
It was due to my move to White Plains (New York) from Chicago (Illinois). I had graduated and could not find a new home for a while. It stopped because the format for news consumption had changed due to WWW which is a good thing. I have some future plans to launch TND but that will have to wait for sometime now. I am very busy raising young children at the moment.
Few personal questions
Where are you originally from ?
I grew up near Jawalakhel and Dhobighat Heights. I was born in Birgunj Municipal Hospital in 1964 AD My ancestors are originally from a town called Tulsipur/Dang near west Rapti river in Nepal. One of our ancestor was brought to Kathmandu back in late 1800 AD.
When did you went USA ?
July of 1985 to pursue Mathematics and Computer Engineering.
What are you doing right now ?
I work as a mid-level executive for a software company. I am father of three little children and hence I and my wife are very very busy raising them with no family nearby.
and Final question,
As first editor/founder of Nepal’s online media, you witnessed many changes in this field. Social media is booming now. What is your opinion about current state of our online media ? Is it satisfactory as you dreamed when starting TND ?
I am very optimistic and excited about Nepal’s online media. When I started TND in early 1990s, I felt something great was happening in the history of mankind in terms of information consumption. I just couldn’t quantify and qualify clearly. Online media, Web commerce and Social media have all merged in to one platform called “Internet Medium”. Through this medium world is changing rapidly, abruptly and at times chaotically. Humans have not seen this kind of tectonic paradigm shift since Gutenberg’s Printing Press. Add to this revolution the access to mobile phone, and now access to knowledge is as common as access to water (well …almost …and every year we are getting closer).
Even God could not have imagined a better way to level the playing field !!!