- Grapevine is now called Inform. This page is retained for historical purposes.
Grapevine was the name for YSTV's service of still advertisments and promotions between programmes. The underlying software has been revamped many times, usually to improve graphics.
The earliest known incarnation was a textual information system called Quaxfax (Ceefax with a campus duck flavour!), and was produced from a computer.
This was first used in the mid-1980s using mainly primitive Teletext-style images driven from a BBC Micro computer, plus an occasional bitmapped graphic for infrequently changing adverts such as those advertising the Grapevine service itself. Written by Roger Moffatt in 1986, it remained in constant use until 1994.
Old VHS archive tapes from the era which were recorded directly from the network output before a programme started show live evidence of the system, and 5.25" floppies from the YSTV Archive are still perfectly readable despite the continual thrashing that they would have endured as each page was loaded from disc rather than cached in precious RAM.
The software comprised a menu system to select between displaying the Grapevine (normal operation), editing the Grapevine (for new pages), and supervisor mode (for purging old unused pages and other housekeeping). Pages could be scheduled to appear for certain periods of time, periodically, and repeating: for this the BBC Micro required a concept of the day/month/time to be entered at startup.
In 1994 Luke Brown added 'Newsbox' functionality which allowed snippets of current news headlines and weather reports to be interspersed with Grapevine pages, news team dedication permitting. Luke's obsession with news was clear, as he went on to work for ITN.
A version was created by Mark Hansgate for the Commodore Amiga which was used briefly during 1994. This featured greatly improved graphics over the BBC Micro version but proved to be unreliable (with Guru Meditation  being a regular feature) and so was abandoned.
During 1995-96, Owain Davies took a bold step and used a PC in the place of the BBC computer. This was made possible with a VGA to composite converter from Bull Electrical. Elegant it was not, however somehow it managed to do the job even under Windows (the driver was loaded in DOS during the autoexec.bat). A windows presentation software package was used to scroll through a series of 'slides' to form the basis of the service.
This first PC interpretation of Grapevine lacked some of the features with which members had grown to love, so Adam Baxter wrote a much similar version in Visual Basic, which was later updated in by Chris Parker still in Visual Basic but this time supporting a wider range of sizes and colour depths of display bitmaps. However this version suffered from storing a running ticker (below the bitmap portion) in a CSV file which wasn't escaped, so ticker items enclosed in quotes would crash the program leaving a Windows 3.11 error box being broadcast.
Later in it was migrated to a Window 98 machine by Alex Hudson after the cache memory failed on the old machine, and at this point it was renamed from Grapevine to Inform. The software branding was still as Grapevine, and by 2002 it was once more known as Grapevine. Whilst more stable, it still crashed quite easily when new slides were added, and the 640x480 resolution with 256 colours didn't look great on photos.
This lead in 2005 to another complete re-write by Dave Baker, using a Linux machine with 800x600 resolution and full 32-bit colour (it even does transparent images!). This made it possible to manage it online (via the YSTV website) and use full-resolution photographs for the first time.
The name is thought to originate thought the way the service spread information across campus - ie. "Heard it through the Grapevine".
From 1999 and again from 2002 it has been known as primarily as Inform, although is essentially the same service. When it switched back to being Grapevine (the actual software was never rebranded) is unclear, but it was always Grapevine by 2002. The name Inform had been in use for the conference service provided by YSTV for sometime, however the name of the student service was changed to match as it was felt to more accurately describe the service.
For a short period in Autumn 2003, the service was replaced by a message service where students could upload messages to be displayed on screen. However this proved to be hard to police and was unreliable, so the previous system was reintroduced.
Student advertising is free, however companies wanting to advertise must pay a fee.
When nothing is scheduled on YSTV, the network reverts to showing this service, in a similar way to BBC Two showing Pages from Ceefax when it closes down.
In 2003 there was an attempt to provide some variation in the service when a "Valentine's Day Special" was held, offering students the chance to declare their romantic intentions on air. However most had to be made up, and these were played out accompanied by slushy music all day on the 14th.
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