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Excerpts, Good Reads, Technology

The Library of Alexandria

I just finished watching the most recent episode of NerdTV, which, if you are a nerd, especially a Silicon Valley type nerd, you ought to check out. You don’t need cable to watch, you can download from the Internet. Using BitTorrent. Truth in distribution!

NerdTV is a blast because they basically take all-star nerds, people who are often not far removed from myself, and interview them, 1:1 for an hour, about, whatever, and while you have to be in the right mood to watch a one-hour interview with a Nerd, well . . . insightful. “Charlie Rose with Nerds,” I think is the tagline.

My favorite? Episode 2 with Max Levchin, co-founder of PayPal, if only because he and I are the same age from the same neighborhood, and while we have people in common, I never got to know him. He is an impressive, aggressive, ambituous guy, who seems actually, pretty nice. The first episode asked a guy from Apple “what is the ideal size of a team?” True to an engineer, the answer was a wise, simple, “no larger than you need to accomplish the goal.” Ideally, one person can do a job themselves, but if you are going to tackle something big, don’t get too bloated . . . keep it simple, stupid! Object-oriented problem-solving. But, ah, I’m rambling.

But in terms of mind-blowing, Brewster Kahle, from the Internet Archive Project . . . well he takes the three-thousand-year-long view. I’m going to quote:

AltaVista, you know people point to Google now and they pointed to Yahoo before, whatever it is, but AltaVista was the first time for a couple thousand years and somebody said we can collect it all. . . . And I remember going down and walking down into the Digital Equipment Corporations room and looking at it. And it was the size of a couple of coke machines, and it was about 30 gigabytes, and it was the web. It was all of it! It was sitting there. And so you could go and search the whole web. This was in 1995. And that was a real mind blower. And the last people that tried to collect it all were the folks at the Library of Alexandria. So those guys had the guts and the insight to do something really very interesting. So I’d say AltaVista is another of sorta the great heroes.

One thing that Bruce is working on is trying to ensure that the Internet matures in a free and open manner. He seems to think that the traditional book publishing model is the way to go, and TV is sort of the opposite. In the book world, you have traditionally had many writers, many publishers, many booksellers, and many people buying and reading books. Authors are paid royalties for their books. TV is sort of the opposite, where you have very few producers, and a large captive audience, who get free content, in exchange for having their choices restricted to what is profitable for large corporate advertisers. He explained how AOL shifted from a royalty-based model to demanding that content producers pay them for delivering consumers. He is not a big fan of that shift.

He explained that lately books have been disappointing, and the threat seems to be that if one organization gets it’s grip on one part of the pipeline, they’ll squeeze each way until the whole thing is choked off. He explained that with books it may have started with centralized distribution, and that lead to giant booksellers, but then also the distributors only deal with large publishing houses, and so on until you have moved from what he calls a “many to many to many” model to . . .

. . . it’s based on vigilance and great people like Larry LaSagin. People like Public Knowledge in DC that are trying to communicate these issues that are kinda complicated technical geeky issues to a broader populous and specifically to some of the government folks that can try to keep it actually safe to make businesses on the Internet. Otherwise, we’ll end up with a very controlled environment. Well, you know, if we end up with just cell phones all being sort of like a little personal AOL where it’s all controlled by your provider as to what you see, what a tragedy. If we ended up building another television out of this, what a shame.

Bob: It’s a waste.

Brewster: What a waste. We would have spent 20 years having the possibility of having done something great and having lost it. So I’m spending my time, my fortune, thanks to Steve Case, Jeff Bezos, on trying to make sure that we have a future that we actually want to live in. Something that we’re actually proud of at the end of the day, having said yeah we built something as good as books. We took the Library of Alexandria idea of having all information available, and not only made it available in Alexandria, Egypt – which they did for 500 years. We all say “oh it burned,” yeah, but it was up and running for 500 years. They had 500 years of great materials available. But then take the Library of Alexandria and making it available to anybody all over the world, that’s a worthwhile goal to get up and spring out of bed in the morning and go to work.

Well, I hope Mr. Kahle has a good work day tomorrow. It is great to know that there are plenty of geeks out there thinking about how best to shape the Internet for all of us. And if that is something that I can help, well, that would be really groovy too. So, today, I’m steering interested readers to NerdTV. Check it out.

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Categories: Excerpts, Good Reads, Technology