In the annus mirabilis of acim podcast,How Michael Hart Revolutionized the Internet Articles Michael Hart conceived of electronic books (e-books), open sourcing, and of user-generated content in one stroke of genius.
Hart established Project Gutenberg: a repository of tens of thousands of public domain texts, freely available online. It is the largest and most comprehensive of its kind and has spawned numerous imitators, emulators, and mirror sites. E-books became a mainstream item with giant commercial enterprises – from Microsoft through Yahoo and Amazon to Google and Barnes and Noble – entering the fray.
Project Gutenberg relied on the contributions and input of volunteers from around the world, who digitized public domain books in accordance with an ever-evolving set of rules. The software underlying the Project was available to be modified, tinkered with, and replicated on other Websites, This model of collaboration now underlies open source software, “crowdsourcing”, and projects such as the Wikipedia.
Most pundits agree that in the history of knowledge and scholarship, e-books are as important as the Gutenberg press, invented five centuries ago. Many would say that they constitute a far larger quantum leap. As opposed to their print equivalents, e-books are public goods: cost close to nothing to produce, replicate, and disseminate. Anyone with access to minimal technology or even the oldest computers can read e-books.
Project Gutenberg eBooks were being read on iPods within a week of the latter’s introduction, not to mention cell phones and smarter variants thereof, such as the iPhone. With well over 4 billion cell (mobile) phones (according to the United Nations) compared c. 1 billion computers, the former may well turn out to be the preferred platform for reading text.Over the years, I have interviewed Michael Hart and we have corresponded prolifically on a variety of topics. I have always relished his anti-authoritarian streak. Michael is a true, unvarnished and non-compromising independent, out to empower the individual at the expense of faceless, heartless corporate and government bureaucracies.
March 8 being Michael’s 62nd birthday, we have decided to publish snippets of our exchanges.Happy Birthday, Michael!!!
Sam:Some people refer to you as “The First Citizen of the Internet” …Michael:Perhaps because I was the first person to be on the Internet’s systems without being paid to do so. Everyone else I knew of was a government employee, staff, or one of the student slave wage computer operators, their bosses, etc.I was certainly “none of the above.”I was probably the first “hitchhiker” on the Internet and that helped to give me the unique perspective that led to the creation of Project Gutenberg, Open Source, virtual communities, and a host of other things we all take for granted now.Project Gutenberg was the first “site” on the Internet, the first place people went to download materials, general information, and so on. There may have been similar things at the companies that serviced the mainframes, but certainly not the general stuff the public could download or upload that we see today.I certainly appeared to be the first to view computers as a huge communications network independent of their computing ability.I remember saying, back in 1971:”Computers Aren’t Just For Computing Anymore.