The History of Mindat
[An earlier version of this article was published on our 10th anniversary
Mindat.org was founded by Jolyon Ralph, based on an earlier DOS/Windows application called Mindat that was started in 1993. This is the story of how mindat.org came to be.
Jolyon's love of minerals started at the age of six on a family trip to Cornwall, England. On a beach he picked up a pebble with a quartz crystal inside. This started a life-long passion for minerals.
1993 to 2000
Before mindat.org was a website, it was a personal computer database project that Jolyon had written from scratch using the C++ programming language. It ran as a DOS application and also as an application on Jolyon's preferred Commodore Amiga computer. Jolyon was the only person who ever used this original software, but with this program the basic concepts of the mindat.org database, localities and minerals, were in place, and the data that were entered in this program became the core of the database when it was launched in 2000 as a website.
Technical Note: Jolyon created the original DOS version using Borland C V2.0 on a 386SX laptop with a monochrome screen.
When Windows 95 came out in 1995, Jolyon rewrote mindat into a Win32 application, and for the first time the information within the database could be searched and viewed in a more structured visual way. A few copies of this were given out online, but probably no more than about 50 people worldwide ever used a copy.
Technical Note: This version was created using Microsoft Visual C++ V4, running on a Compaq Aero 433 Laptop with 12MB of RAM and a 170MB hard drive! Later Jolyon obtained a Pentium P75 system with 48MB of RAM.
The big problem with Mindat32 was that all data were entered by hand by Jolyon - the other users of the software could not contribute. For several years he looked at different solutions to this problem, and in early 1996 Jolyon had an idea (taken from a 1996 'to-do' list)
8. HTML export
This is a longer-term goal. I'd like to be able to export HTML from MinDat32, and then eventually it could be possible to convert MinDat32 into a web server, so it could be run on a PC connected to the internet allowing anyone with a web browser and internet account access to the latest mineral information (and possibly write-access to add information to a global database). That would be *great*
In 1997 Jolyon got a new job which left him little time to work on Mindat, and it mostly lay neglected until the middle of 2000 when he finally started development of the web-hosted version.
The website, with full ability for community-contributed content to be added and managed, was launched in October 2000 after 2-3 weeks of evenings working on the site. This was, by the way, the year before Wikipedia was launched.
It was on October 10th 2000 that mindat.org was first announced to the world. The first announcement was made on Usenet (which was the way things were done back in those days), in the group sci.geo.mineralogy. Here is that first announcement:
And here was the very first reply - quite negative! The poster of this message replied a few days later to say he had reconsidered and now agreed it was a worthy project.
If you want to view the whole thread, it's available here
By 2001, the website was well established and popular, with photos and data being uploaded by members and the familiar mindat.org menu bar.
During these early days Jolyon received lots of emails, many of them were highly complimentary, but others were not - several people emailed to say that Jolyon was doing everything wrong, that he didn't understand the science and that the database was full of errors. Jolyon wrote back, politely, and asked if they would be prepared to help, and many replied positively becoming some of the first managers to help oversee and review the content being submitted to the site.
By 2002 the page is evolving and the first news section is online.
Technical Note: at this point mindat.org is running from a server built from spare parts - a 333Mhz Pentium II processor, 256Mb of RAM and a 10Gb hard disk
As the site develops Jolyon experiments with the home page layout - note at this point there are still no adverts on mindat.org. During all this time the mindat.org server had been hosted for free by a local publishing company.
During 2004 the web page design evolves again.
In late 2004 mindat.org is asked to plan towards moving our server out of the publishing company office as they are closing down the office and selling off the company! Their IT manager mentioned on the day the server was moved that the company had an office of 200 people, but the mindat.org server was on average using about 80% of their internet bandwidth. As he was the only one who knew this and no-one else complained he decided to keep that news to himself until the day mindat.org moved out!
At this point mindat.org starts accepting mineral dealer adverts to help cover the now quite significant monthly hosting costs.
Mindat.org starts promoting at mineral shows in the UK - here is Ida wearing a mindat T-shirt at the Hayward's Heath mineral show in 2004.
In early 2005 disaster strikes - the hard disk in the mindat.org server fails, and additionally the backups have failed for two weeks.
Mindat.org buys a new server, for the first time a dedicated server with dual processors, dual hard disks, and 2Gb of ram. More reliable but also very expensive!
In a most important development, October 2005 is the first time Jolyon travels to an overseas mineral show - the Munich Mineral Show.
Jolyon recalls his first visit to Munich:
"While I'm busy walking and chatting with Bryan Lees (who is taking me, to introduce me to the first time to Rob Lavinsky), I saw someone walk past in the opposite direction wearing a mindat T-Shirt! I do a double-take, but he's gone, vanished into the crowds at Munich. Now, the mindat T-Shirts were one-of-a-kind creations made by hand and posted as gifts to mindat managers for their hard work in helping to run the site. Later on, I catch up with the wearer of the shirt, none other than Alfredo Petrov."
Read our original Munich 2005 show report here
During 2006, the layout changes again, and features such as "Photo of the Day" are launched.
The first Photo of the Day was shown on the 1st of February 2006, and is this photo:
In 2006 Jolyon visits the Tucson gem and mineral shows for the first time.
It's an opportunity to meet US collectors, dealers and many other mindat managers for the first time. Here is Jolyon Ralph with Chet Lemanski (Mindat manager) on the left and Jesse Fisher (previously of UK Mining Ventures) on the right.
And the travel didn't stop there. Wayne and Dona Leicht of Kristalle invited Jolyon and Ida to go to the Tokyo mineral show in the summer of 2006.
2006 was also the first visit to the Denver mineral show and a chance to meet more of the mindat.org managers - firstly David von Bargen, who is now helping to co-develop some of the mindat.org program code.
And here is Jolyon with Rock Currier, who was a mindat manager, and responsible for the "Best Minerals" project on mindat, but who sadly passed away in 2015.
Mindat Books, offering free download PDF versions of mineral books, was also launched in 2006
Munich 2006 was an opportunity for mindat.org to have a promotional booth for the first time. Here is Jolyon sat in the booth demonstrating the site.
2007 saw the launch of the Mindat Articles section.
Finally, the year ends with mindat.org being invited to the launch of the new gallery "The Vault" at the Natural History Museum. It's an opportunity to dress up, mingle with celebrities and talk with friends. Here I am with Mike Rumsey, curator at the Natural History Museum.
2008 started with a return to Tucson, just in time for the best Tucson display of a generation, the "American Mineral Treasures" exhibits.
Another trip to the US in June, this time to Dallas, where Jolyon is invited by the Mineralogical Association of Dallas to speak about mindat.org.
In 2008 the Mindat Catalogue was launched, a free collection cataloguing tool for all earth science collections.
2008 also saw the launch of a special version of mindat.org for the iPhone/iPod Touch - which can be found by visiting http://www.mindat.org/i.html
and adding it as a bookmark on your phone/pod.
2009 meant another visit to Tucson. This time, the first flight of "Air Mindat", a collecting trip to two exciting local localities by helicopter. This was arranged by the late Roy 'Digger' Lee. Here's the helicopter with us waiting to board.
Mindat.org in a booth in the main hall at the TGMS kindly sponsored by Kristalle and Crystal Classics. Here is Jolyon in the booth.
The Tucson trip was followed soon after by another trip to the US for the Rochester Symposium, where Jolyon gave a talk about mindat.org.
Jolyon able to give another presentation about mindat.org in September 2009, at the Fersman Mineralogical Museum in Moscow, mostly to professional mineralogists from the various museums, institutes and universities in Moscow.
2010 starts, of course, with another trip to Tucson. This year the display was Gem minerals, such as this wonderful display of Tanzanite crystals:
Mindat.org has a booth at Tucson again this year, again sponsored by Crystal Classics and Kristalle, and mindat.org gives out a sticker book for children and stickers for them to stick into it, each sticker is one of the Mohs hardness minerals.
Other events visited in 2010 included the first Dallas Mineral Symposium
, The Warsaw Mineral Show
, The Stephen Hui Geological Museum in Hong Kong
, The Crystal Days Festival in Poland
and of course The Munich Show
Back in Tucson in early 2011 with a new booth position in the upper hallway. Read the full report here
In 2011 Jolyon Ralph was awarded the Mineralogical Society of America Distinguished Public Service medal for his work in founding and developing mindat.org. You can see a video of the acceptance speech here
In 2011 mindat.org added a way to access your Mindat Catalogue on mobile devices, see here
But, the highlight of 2011 was the 1st International Mindat.org Conference held in Lwowek Slaski, Poland.
Read about the conference: Registration day
, Field trips
Another trip to Denver in 2011 gave Jolyon the opportunity to give presentations at the Russian Mineralogy Symposium at the Colorado School of Mines. Read more here
Along with the routine visits to Tucson and Munich, this year brings the second of the Mindat.org Conferences, this time to Morocco. Read all about it here
In March 2012 Jolyon and Katya get married.
2013 brought visits to Tucson, Munich, the New York/New Jersey Show, Changsha in China, and The Dallas Mineral Symposium.
Up until 2013 Jolyon had been only working part-time on mindat.org (usually evenings and weekends) and doing contract work for a local company as his day job. During 2013 it became quite clear that this wouldn't be able to continue and finally in September 2013 he dedicated his time to mindat.org full-time.
During 2013 Jolyon and co-founder Ida announces their aim to give away ownership of mindat.org so that it can be set up into a not-for-profit foundation to protect the long-term future of the site. A fundraising campaign is started to aid with this and to support the running of the site in the meantime.
At the Tucson show we launch our first printed magazine, given away free as a paper magazine or digital download.
If you wish to download a copy it is still available here:
Mindat.org Show Special Tucson 2014Click here to download
Downloaded 7,434 times
The most important event in 2014 is the 3rd Mindat.org Conference, in Madagascar. This time Jolyon can't attend as his wife gives birth to their first son at the same time as the conference.
In late 2014 mindat.org finally comes under the operation of the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy, and is at long last a not-for-profit organization.
A major site redesign is launched in early 2015 with the major aim of having better support on mobile devices.
The new photo viewer allows support for 3d stereoscopic images on a computer attached to a 3D monitor (a first for a major website.) Changes at this point are discussed here.
Sadly September 2015 marks the passing of Rock Currier, probably the most active manager and contributor to mindat.org. He will be greatly missed.
Jolyon ends the year, on the 29th of December, testing a brand-new system for live show/event reporting on mindat.org (using a cellphone to automatically update an article) with a report on his presentation to the Rock and Mineral Society of Hawaii - read more here.
As Rock Currier has left a significant portion of his estate to mindat.org a large part of this year is taken up with trying to deal with this (as of March 2018 the estate is still caught up in legal issues and so the money has not yet reached mindat.org.)
Return trips to Tucson, Munich and Denver followed by a second trip to Denver later in the year for the Geological Society of America conference. Mindat.org is also invited to take part in the Hong Kong Mineral Show in June, read about that here.
In November 2016 mindat.org holds its fourth conference - in Mogok, Myanmar.
The group takes advantage of a window of opportunity for foreigners to visit this normally difficult-to-access area, and is by far the largest group of foreigners ever to visit the gem mines. Unfortunately political events in the north of the country have made it impossible for mindat.org plan a return trip for the foreseeable future. Read more about the trip here.
Along with return visits to Tucson, Munich and Denver, 2017 saw Jolyon return to the Rochester Mineralogical Symposium in Rochester, New York, to give a presentation (the first time since 2009.), and to the TIMA show in Tokyo (for the first time since 2006.)
Major development changes to the site this year included the addition of a brand new section on petrology, with a listing of different rock types, and a comprehensive listing of meteorite types. Information on climate types has been added to localities and information about locality ages has been added along with a section on geological time.
Work is also started on predictive mineralogy to suggest missing minerals at a locality based on statistical probabilities of associations between minerals at other localities.
A Mindat Adventure trip to the Kola Peninsula of Russia is held this year - adventure trips are for smaller numbers of people than our conferences to allow more adventurous activities. Read more here and here.
Further work is continued this year on predictive mineralogy with significantly improved results.