9 . 4 Project Gutenberg

Now this is a project with a mission. Almost singlehandedly, Michael Hart, an English professor at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), has assembled and continues to assemble a collection of electronic texts for simple and wide distribution.


According to a an article about the project:(5)

In describing the genesis of Project Gutenberg, Mr. Hart waxes lyrical. It was 1971, he was a student at the University of Illinois, and through computer-operator friends, gained access to its mainframe from midnight to 8 a.m. `The old computer rooms had an aura of mystery, church and magic,' he recalls. `You were a computer god.' But what to do with all those millions of microseconds ticking away? Fishing around in his backpack, he found a copy of the Declaration of Independence, began typing, and Project Gutenberg was born.


The purpose of Project Gutenberg is to encourage the creation and distribution of English language electronic texts. We prefer the texts to be made available in pure ASCII formats so they would be most easily converted to use in various hardware and software. A file of this nature will also be made available in various markup formats as it is used in various environments. However, we accept files in ANY format, and will do our best to provide them in all.

Our goal is to provide a collection of 10,000 of the most used books by the year 2000, and to reduce, and we do mean reduce, the effective costs to the user to a price of approximately one cent per book, plus the cost of media and of shipping and handling. Thus, we hope the entire cost of libraries of this nature will be about $100 plus the price of the disks and CDROMS and mailing.

This project makes use of a list server that is at LISTSERV@UIUCVMD.BITNET. (See Section 7 . 4 . 4 Electronic Mail in Chapter 7 Applying Standards for more information on list servers.)

Of course, a number of Web sites now point to the texts, and several FTP sites make the texts available.(6)


Project Gutenberg has evolved into a mini crusade. There is no real organization, just one determined individual leading the rest. When it comes to resources, most of the work has been done over the years by volunteers either typing or scanning the material. In some cases, Hart paid some people out of pocket. The equipment has been scrounged, and computer time has been borrowed from UIUC.


All text entered into the system must be free of copyright restrictions. This is a fairly stiff constraint; in fact, several almostcompleted books had to be canceled due to copyright restrictions.


In general, the flow of work consisted of finding the work, checking copyright, input via typing or scanning spell checking, proofing, and proofing again.


A publicly accessible collection of copyrightfree text. Some representative examples of the texts are:

. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
. Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll
. The World Factbook 1990 - CIA
. The Night Before Christmas (A Visit from St. Nicholas) - Clement Clarke Moore
. The U.S. Constitution in troff format

Project Gutenberg uses shareware and public domain distributions. Speeches also spread the word. Over the years the distribution has, along with the technology become more sophisticated. Walnut Creek CDROM, a CDROM publisher, sells a CD of all the Gutenberg texts. It's also updated twice a year. You can find them at: http://www.cdrom.com. Many texts are in scattered places on the Web. Simply use your favorite Internet search mechanism to find a few. You could start with the Walnut Creek FTP site, which has just about everything at: ftp://ftp.cdrom.com/pub/gutenberg/.


The world insists that you go sloooooowly. The "NOT INVENTED HERE" syndrome is HUGE. Lots of people resist for other reasons.

One interesting lesson of this project is that sometimes persistence and missionary zeal do bring about converts. After 20 years of typing away in obscurity, Michael Hart's 15 minutes of fame came with a recent front page article in the Wall Street Journal. That article marked the first time the Internet appeared on the front page of a major national or international paper. His conviction that lots of text should be available free seems to be catching on. The press has had dozens of articles about the project. In fact an online file lists 125 articles.(7)


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