Monday, November 3, 2014

An Abundance of Free Internet Goodies of Today and Our Long-Gone Past

Artists, writers, photographers and anyone doing research for projects that will include illustrations from our long-gone past are in for the equivalent of an overburdened feast. What's more, the feasting is encouraged and all of it is free, unless specified otherwise with some small caveats. This trove of potential for the creative or those who just plain want to explore intellectually is your's for the asking. A few clicks and you're in the Internet version of nirvana and it's called The Internet Archive.

I've used some of the material there in the past while involved in writing projects and, yes, the current website design layout is very dated in appearance. But don't let the exterior mislead you and turn you off to the potential within. A major facelift is in the offing, so stick with the look and continue to see beyond it. In fact, the current curator has incredible plans for the future and it is truly mind boggling in scope.

A bit of the size of the current archive can be appreciated when you consider that it has 435 billion web pages, 7 million texts (books), 2.1 million audio recordings, and 1.8 million videos. Want a sample of what's on the site? How about "The Internet's Own Boy" about Aaron Swartz, the genius who, under pressure by authorities, committed suicide? You can download it free in a number of formats.

By anyone's measure it's a hefty collection with something for everyone and it's growing thanks to new technology that will permit scanning and collection at other sites. Portability has meant the potential for enormous additions at a fraction of the time and expense.

Only a truly visionary librarian such as Brewster Kahle could have seen the possibilities in the world wide web in the early 1990s. That is true creativity. Often, it's the task of dreamers and the adventurous who make the mental break throughs that bring wonderful new light to things we could only dream of. Thank you, Mr. Kahle, you have provided an incredible service to the world and I know there are many who will sing your praises.

As for myself, I remember sitting in my office with my spanking new, portable IBM laptop which prompted remarks about what it was, what it did and a few somewhat cautious concerns about whether it was going to record conversations or video discussions. It was still rudimentary, but not as it had been when I had one of the first Franklin computers. You may recall they were successfully put out of business by Apple who sued on copyright infringement.

I marveled at the FTP connections with foreign countries (no icon-based desktop yet) and connecting to the University of Illinois computer programs site. When the spinning globe indicated I had successfully gotten into, if only marginally, a new interface, Mosaic from Marc Andreessen, it was one of those heart-skip moments. I was IN! I was on that new thing called the web! It was awesome even if I couldn't get the globe to keep spinning and the interface didn't come up at all.  I couldn't wait to contact, via FTP, people all over the world.

The feeling must be what it's like to step onto that glass observation point over the Grand Canyon. You feel as though you're stepping into space and it's totally unknown and you've never had this experience before so you can't accurately gauge it. But it's exciting. It must have been the same with anyone who had one of the original shortwave radios. Truly wonderful experience.

I learned the simple commands, downloaded free programs and waited for the next turn of events. When an icon-based system came into being it would be years before I knew that Xerox had created it and sold it without ever seeing where it's true value lay.  Of course, now I expect more and the Internet Archive has provided a piece of that "more" but I still want more and I know it's coming.

I don't want games. I want immersive experiences made possible by imaginative programmers who use virtual keyboards or hand/eye commands making the web now accessible to all for all our senses, not just the visual. I want touch, and sound experiences from afar and I look forward to them and to The Internet Archive collecting all of them for me and for generations to come.

Long live the new library in all its formats. It's a far cry from that beautiful wood-paneled library of my childhood where the librarians read stories to us, but it's just as special and inviting.

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