How e-books came of age: in memory of a pioneer
As we predicted a couple of weeks ago, Amazon has released a new range of e-book readers and colour pad computers. What we didn’t foresee was that Amazon’s big announcement would coincide with the first anniversary of the death of the inventor of the e-book.
As long as there were computers that were widely networked, it was inevitable that book texts would be digitized. But somebody had to go first, and the world is richer for the fact that Michael Stern Hart had the vision and altruism to make it happen long before the rest of us dreamed of owning a computer, or heard of the internet.
In 1971, Hart had talked his way into a user account on a mainframe computer at the University of Illinois, where he was a student. He had no idea what to do with it. In those days university computers were used mainly for data processing. But walking home from Independence Day fireworks in 1971, he had his eureka moment when a grocery store stuffed a free copy of the Declaration of Independence in his bag. Hart typed it into the mainframe and made it available for download over the academic network that then joined just a few campuses and the US Department of Defense. Hart’s Project Gutenberg was born.
By 1987 he had personally entered the text of 313 out-of-copyright books and plays. On average, every 20 days, Hart typed in The Odyssey, then The Iliad, then Tom Sawyer, then The Merchant of Venice, and so on. As Gutenberg himself had given the world its first printed Bible, Michael Hart gave us the first electronic edition.
The university communications network grew, and Hart asked others to contribute. Project Gutenberg became one of the first distributed technology projects with mirrored sites and coordinated volunteers. We’ll let the man himself articulate his cause. “Encourage the creation and distribution of e-books. Help break down the bars of ignorance and illiteracy. Give as many e-books to as many people as possible.” To date, his US project has captured about 40,000 books. Affiliated organizations like Project Gutenberg Australia account for another 60,000.
Hart died on September 6 last year aged just 64, and apparently having made more from odd jobs like stereo repair than he took as salary from his real work.
We’ll be using US contacts to get hold of the new Kindle Paperwhite model with its increased pixel density, greater contrast and a patented, built-in light that emanates evenly from the edge of the page. This will make reading in the dark easy without any clip on lamp. And when we take delivery, we’ll spare a thought for M.S. Hart, late of Urbana, Illinois.
Source: www.afr.com Sept 17, 2012 By: Peter Moon
Peter is a Melbourne, Australia lawyer who writes a weekly technology column for the Australian Financial Review.
About First Edition Design Publishing:
First Edition Design Publishing is the world’s largest eBook and POD (Print On Demand) book distributor. Ranked first in the industry, First Edition Design Publishing converts and formats manuscripts for every type of platform (e-reader). They submit Fiction, Non-Fiction, Academic and Children’s Books to Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Sony, Google, Kobo, Diesel, 3M, Ingram, Baker and Taylor, Nielsen, EBSCO, and over 100,000 additional on-line locations including retailers, libraries, schools, colleges and universities. The company’s POD division creates printed books and makes them available worldwide through their distribution network. First Edition Design Publishing is a licensed and approved Aggregator and holds licenses with Apple and Microsoft.