Michael Hart: Thoughts on Project Gutenberg 1994

Greeting Gutenbergers, from January, 1994, another step along a path we have been taking into the future since 1971.

Here are my requests, predictions, and recollections from 1994:

For the past week I have been waiting for inspiration to strike, so I could write you all something fantastically motivational or encouraging or complimentary or whatever. . .


the truth is, as I have said so many times, Project Gutenberg is really nothing special. . .just a non-organization of people who each put together an electronic book once in a while.

The only difference for 1994 is that we are planning to do twice as many books as in 1993, the same doubling of production we are scheduled to do every year.

I get both terrified AND overconfident at this time of year, and it usually takes me until about April or May to decide that yes, we really CAN produce twice as many books as the previous year.

The hardest thing for me to do is to remind you: each and every single one of you, from the person who just met us, and wants to do one single book, to the people who have already produced many books for us, and are producing many more. . .the hardest thing, always, is to ask you to do twice as good a job on QUALITY, plus doing the normally expected twice as much in QUANTITY.

Last year, Project Gutenberg was involved in the creation and/or the distribution of about fifty books, raising our total to 100.

This year we hope to do about 100 books.

It will take MORE than TWICE as much effort on YOUR PART.

I don't think _I_ can work any harder this year, thus, I must do what I can to insure that these new 100 books have only half the work remaining to be done on each on of them when they arrive as did each book in 1993, so I can take only half as much time with each book to get it to the quality level of previous years. The fact is, I want to get them to an even HIGHER quality level, and we finally have some editing volunteers that might be able to do just that [you can join the Editing Team to work on this].

So I ask you all to prepare your books just that much better; as close as possible to the exact way you intend them to be posted, for the rest of the world to see, with headers in place, page #s removed, minimal indentation [only in special cases!], sentences separated by two spaces, paragraphs by two lines, etc. down to a last line stating "End of the Project Gutenberg Etexts of. . ."

In addition to this request, I am also hunting for editors to do what I do, and I once again want to reduce any dependence on me. The project will eventually have to do without me, so every year I try to give it a little more practice. This year I hope, will be the first year we actually post a few books I have never even seen a word of. . .this is becoming a necessity. . .either that, or a straight jacket to keep me here in front of the screen.


The reason it takes me a week to compose myself each year is the fact that I, too, am totally in awe of what we have accomplished at the end of every year.

When I step back and look at it, the 100 Etexts we have produced and/or distributed are remarkable edifices for a disorganization such as Project Gutenberg, and while this INCREASES the feelings of satisfaction for a job well done, it also scares me into this feeling that it could never be done again.

And the truth is, I never could do it again, because I hardly am the person who ever did it the first time. . .you people are.

Oh no, I am not denying that I am the person who more or less am responsible for more or less the first 10 or 20 books we did but I am saying that aside from a Bible and the US Constitution, and the Book of Mormon [which were all 99% done by people with a lot more expertise in those documents than _I_ had, or ever will. I am actually only responsible for a very small amount. . .just in case you didn't see how small those files I did actually are.

BUT. . .and here is the point it has taken me a week or three to figure out. . .the collection was made a piece at a time just as ANY library is built, and those pieces added up to something and can be added to just as easily.


Just remember. . .those TWO books should require only as much of the editor's hand as the ONE book from the previous year, if you want me out of the hands and arms of the straight jacket.


Yes, back in 1971 it was a certainty that we were NOT getting on the nets with anything much larger than documents such as the US Declaration of Independence, because the entire hard drive space of the whole mainframe we were using would not hold both a Bible and a Shakespeare at the same time.

However, while the operators and managers each thought the whole project was kind of nuts, they WERE willing to give enough space for the 5K of the Declaration. Later they regretted this, would eventually make us move our works to tape, in which case you had to send a message to the operators to mount our tapes to get the files you needed. For a while this was PAPER tape.


The 1980's brought two main changes, the PC, so we could work at home instead of either IN the computer, or in those sweat-shops, springing up around it, containing teletypes, terminals, and the notorious keypunch machines, and also the networks became a much more powerful resource in the 80's than most had predicted.

Obviously we got a lot more work done in the 80's, even though a 300 baud connection was pretty slow. However, we also began the process of producing Etexts in both upper and lower case, and in the process, "met" the "experts" who did most of the work on the Bible, the Constitution, etc. The 80's were the true dawning of the Age of Electronic Text, as it finally became possible to get words on the screen that actually "looked" like those on pages-- Etexts in all CAPS were pretty boring reading to the eye, and it was only the true scholar who would read them. We wanted to get Etexts to EVERYONE, and the 80's was when that started.

1988 was a banner year, because it was the first time we "met" a person out there in NetLand who thought that Etext was anything, literally anything. Before that, even those who did the work on the Bible, the Constitution, the Book of Mormon, etc., were only interested in that ONE BOOK, nothing more.

1988 was the first year that people finally realized we were for building a LIBRARY right there on the Nets.

Instead of just one book or one brick at a time, we were finally creating a library. . .instead of individual books, and. . .



I am predicting, here and now, that 1994 will be another "Banner Year" for the Nets.

I predict that 1994 will be the year that Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings, along with all the rest of them, finally are going to tell us that the Internet is here!

Those of you reading this will be thought of as "old-timers" and who knows what will happen when all of the hundreds of millions, and more, new computer users descend on the nets.


One thing I do know, however, is that more and more people would be wanting and needing access to information, and that more, and more, and more people will be trying to figure out how to "limit that information" in order to "provide that information" in some "for profit" or "for fame" or "for control" manner, and that the time has come for some SERIOUS consideration for the founding of the "Public Domain Register" which may be the only thing left to keep the information flowing someday, now that (C)copyright 1994 is no longer required to mark a document as copyrighted.


1995 will be the 100th anniversary of Carnegie Public Libraries, and I would like to prepare the largest possible celebration and continuation of that as possible. Those who have ideas or would like to get involved, please let me know.


Why do we do Project Gutenberg?

I certainly can't speak for all of the hundreds of volunteers in direct support of Project Gutenberg, or especially the thousands in support of the building of an Internet Encyclopedia, but I am capable of telling you SOME of the reasons of SOME volunteers:

I think the biggest reason is a desire to bring information, and literacy/education, to the public at large, because we think the public is better off literate, educated and informed, especially the public in a democracy.

Recently, a US government report showed us figures that about 47 out of 100 adults in the US are illiterate to the point of being incapable of reading the books we are presenting. . .we hope the access to free books for all ages and cultures will be a largest possible step in the reversal of this trend.

You have all heard similar statistics concerning education. Our goal is to reverse that trend also.

The same goes for reversing similar trends in all the democratic processes.

If democracy is to survive, the people must be able to choose.

To make a choice requires an informed public.

Without information, education and literacy. . .the choices will be extremely limited.

Unlimited Distribution of all Public Domain information would do a lot to break the cycles of ignorance and illiteracy.