Thursday, August 17, 2006

WikiNotes, Part the First

I could have written at least 5000 words on the WikiMania experience, but for some reason the bossman didn't want to do a whole issue on the "Free Encyclopedia." I tried to explain that nerds are people too, and we need our time in the sun, to rant and rave about the future of everything, because who else will predict the future but the nerds? He told me to go make a fluffernutter and shut up. Can't say I blame him.

This week we're going to pontificate on some of the Wiki-flavored ideas and projects that we didn't have space for in the latest issue. This is the first in a series:

Brewster Kahle wants your petabytes.


One of the keynote speakers at Wikimania this year was Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, an ambitious project to "backup" the human race and the sum of its knowledge.

Seriously. Kahle wants to make a copy of, well, everything. Every book, every song, every film, every piece of software, everything! And he wants that, the sum of human knowledge, in the hands of people, not governments. As he notes during his speech, governments have a tendency to burn libraries.

In pursuing this goal, he's buying up acres of bandwith and creating an impetus for hardware designers to make bigger and bigger hard drives. Currently the Archive is storing around 2 petabytes of data (one petabyte is worth 1 million gigabytes), and is growing exponentially as the months go by.

One of the more interesting things Kahle discussed is the Internet Archive's book projects. During his speech, he handed around paperback books that looked like this:

Looks like a normal book, right? But this book is special. It was printed and bound in about 15 minutes from a printing press that fits into a minivan, and looks something like this:

How much did it cost? A buck a book for your very own Alice in Wonderland, or any other number of books in the public domain. You may have even been involved in the binding process, or at the very least least watched the high quality printer churn out the leaves that you would soon be flipping.

There are currently Bookmobiles touring the United States, and ones have also been set up in a couple different countries, not a few in the Middle East and so-called developing nations, according to Kahle. More information on the project can be found here.

The selection right now is kind of limited. No books currently under copyright can be printed for the project. Kahle is currently fighting a court battle to prevent copyright extensions on older works by dead authors. Because of that, Kahle wants to scan one of the largest collections of public domain books in the world, namely the Library of Congress, and he thinks the Archive can do that for "less than 10 percent of the Federal library system's budget," or half a billion dollars. He's currently lobbying to have it done.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. In his own words, Brewster is "trying to give every human being universal access to all knowledge."

"We have all the tools to make this a reality; there's some stumbling blocks, but I feel we have the infrastructure to do it."

An audio copy of the last 30 minutes of Kahle's speech is available here, and a video of the entire presentation is available here.

-Paul Rice

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