June 23, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Brewster Kahle's modest mission: Archiving everything

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Beyond his librarian and archivist role at the Internet Archive, Kahle serves on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and on the national digital strategy advisory board at The Library of Congress. He's also a plaintiff in Kahle v. Gonzales (formerly Kahle v. Ashcroft), a federal lawsuit challenging recent copyright term extensions. Kahle lost in the lower court and has appealed.

"What Brewster has done is extraordinarily significant, because he produced an archive of material that otherwise just wouldn't have existed," says Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, who spearheaded the Kahle lawsuit. "There have been many collectors of cultural works out there, but only Kahle is collecting the Internet. When he started collecting it, most people were not yet convinced that there was anything there to be collected."

Lessig remembers that during the preparations for the 1999 court challenge, Kahle and his son drove the Internet Archive's Bookmobile from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to attend the trial. "They stopped at high schools along the way, printing books, cutting and binding them for people to take for free," he says. "That was (Kahle's) way to make tangible what was really at stake in the public domain."

Rick Prelinger, a writer and filmmaker who donated a collection of historical films to the Internet Archive, remembers how easily Kahle recruited him to the cause when they first talked on the phone in 1999. Brewster said he had just been thinking that he wanted films for the Internet Archive, Prelinger says.

"How would you like to put your films online and make them accessible for free?'" recalls Prelinger, who taught for a time at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. "We'd only known each other for five seconds, and he was already suggesting I get involved in the West Coast gift economy."

"To meet Brewster and work with him was a life changing experience," he says. Kahle "thrives on access. He watches the outbound bandwidth figures for the Internet Archive to see how many bits (of data) they are giving away, and that's very exciting to him," Prelinger said. "He's a zealot about bits in and bits out and collecting and disseminating information."

Despite some hurdles, Kahle is an optimistic man. The pieces are in place to accomplish his dream, he says: Internet technology to digitize and distribute content; ideals of universal education; and political will.

"With those, I believe we can build a great library of humankind's thoughts and dreams," he says.

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Whither (wither?) archives?
I had an opportunity to hear Kahle speak at Stanford in the not-too-distant past; so I am familiar with his rhetorical style. He comes on with strong idealist visions that can easily rouse the enthusiasms. Then, should he get down to any brass tacks, one comes away with the feeling that he has had to back down from those visions on just about every front. The question then remains as to whether or not any of that vision has been left.

In my case I was left with a reminder of Sturgeon's Revelation, cited on Wikipedia as "Ninety percent of SF [science fiction] is crud, but then, ninety percent of everything is crud" &lt;<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Sturgeon" target="_newWindow">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodore_Sturgeon</a>&gt;. By the end of Kahle's talk, I found myself wondering if his archiving project was basically taking care of Sturgeon's 90%, while the stuff that really mattered (at least to me) was in that remaining 10%! Perhaps this is an extreme position; but it should also raise the question of the value of an archive in the first place (which I tried to capture in that whither/wither pun).

Mills' article has a very handy link to the Wikipedia entry from the Library of Alexandria, but what that link does not indicate is the massive amount of controversy that sprang up over the authoring of that article. I see this as an object lesson of a very important precept: The CONTENT of any repository is rarely as significant as the CONVERSATIONS that accumulate around that content. The Ancient World was one where reading and conversation where closely coupled (at least if we are to take the dramatic settings of many of Plato's dialogs at face value). We seem to be detaching ourself from that coupling; and it is good to see that Wikipedia is doing something to reverse that trend (even if their approach sometimes has problems of its own). I would rather have the opportunity to enjoy the restoration of such conversation than any amount of archival access to that 90% chunk of Sturgeon's view of the world!
Posted by ghostofitpast (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Grow up
Look buddy, it's not all just about YOU. One man's garbage is
another man's treasure. If the project doesn't cost you a dime
personally, why are you so against it? Oh, yeah, because if it was
all up to you, then the money would go to what interests YOU.

The conversations you are referencing in the last third of your
comment are exactly what is being archived, you dolt. Those
conversations and other information being archived are
invaluable to future generations.

By the way, thus far the postings reflect your 90% rule. 90% of
the comments (yours) are crap.

Have a nice day.
Posted by lesfilip (496 comments )
Link Flag
one more thing
The objective is "the Internet" not "90% of the Internet". So even if your unsubstantiated estimate is true, within the confines of the whole, wait long enough, and there MUST eventually be something that would be relevant to yourself.
Posted by qazwiz (208 comments )
Link Flag
Rhetoric aside...
...have you actually used the archive? I don't think a month goes by that I don't visit it at least once to listen to a concert by some artist I've never heard of, dig up a website that died years ago in search of some obscure piece of genealogical history or just used it to dig up old news articles or essays that, otherwise, would no longer be available.

It's an extraordinary resource, though I'm sure there has been a large amount of compromise and outright impeding of what content he's been able to host and serve, but that doesn't minimize his vision.
Posted by DaClyde (96 comments )
Link Flag
He has aligned with some spam people. He may or may not have done this on purpose.
Of course money will come from this.
Posted by 77977797 (1 comment )
Link Flag
What I found
Yes, I have tried to use the Archive and have yet to be satisfied with the experience. I suppose I am not as much of a browser as my critics are. I seem to spend much of my time looking for new stuff with A9, although, now that they have severed their relations with Google, I go do Google directly when I am interested in images.
Posted by ghostofitpast (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Internet Archieve is great in theory, but its implimentation is lacking
I think the Internet Archive is a great idea but I've had a lot of trouble accessing website archives from the past few years. Even when I can access the content, it is very slow. Has anyone else had this problem? Anyone know if they're doing anything about it?
Posted by Logomachist (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Both the Wayback Machine and the longterm self e-publishing feature are UNIQUE in the whole Internet and I found it useful and indispensable lots of times.

GO Internet Archive, GO!
Posted by ismaelolea (1 comment )
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