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Saturday, October 25, 2014

The history of the Woordenboek Organische Chemie

Chemistry students at the Radboud University in Nijmegen (then called the Catholic University of Nijmegen) got internet access in spring 1994. BTW, the catholic part only was reflected in the curriculum in that philosophy was an obligatory course. The internet access part meant a few things:
  1. xblast
  2. HTML and web servers
  3. email
Our university also had a campus-wide IT group that experimented with new technologies. So, many students had internet access via cable early on (though I do not remember when that got introduced).

During these years I was studying organic chemistry, and I started something to help me learn name reactions and trivial names. I realized that the knowledge base I had built up would be useful to others too, and hence I started the Woordenboek Organische Chemie (WOC). This project no longer exists, and is largely redundant with Wikipedia and other resources. The first public version goes back to 1996, but most of the history is lost, sadly.

Here are a few screenshots I have been able to dig up from the Internet Archive. A pretty recent version is from 2003 and this is what it looked like in those days:



The oldest version I have been able to dig up with from January 1998:



Originally, I started with specific HTML pages, but then quickly realized the importance of separating content from display. The first data format was a custom format which looks an awful lot like JSON but we later moved to the easier to work with XML. The sources are still available from SourceForge where we uploaded the data once we realized the importance of proper data licensing. This screenshot also shows that the website won Ralf Claessen's Chemistry Index award. That was in December 1997.

Unfortunately, I never published the website, which I should have because I realize each day how nice the technologies were we played with, but at least I got it mentioned in two papers. The first time was in the 2000 JChemPaint paper (doi:10.3390/50100093). JChemPaint at the time had functionality to download 2D chemical diagrams from the WOC using CAS registry numbers. The second time was in the CMLRSS paper where the WOC was one of the providers of a CMLRSS feed.

In 2004 I gave a presentation about which HTML technologies were being used in the WOC, also in London, almost 10 years ago! Darn, I should have thought of that, so that I could've mentioned that in my presentation this week! Here are the slides of back then:


Krause, S., Willighagen, E. L. & Steinbeck, C. JChemPaint - using the collaborative forces of the internet to develop a free editor for 2D chemical structures. Molecules 5, 93-98 (2000).
Murray-Rust, P., Rzepa, H. S., Williamson, M. J. & Willighagen, E. L. Chemical markup, XML, and the world wide web. 5. applications of chemical metadata in RSS aggregators. J Chem Inf Comput Sci 44, 462-469 (2004).