For a man who has set himself a seemingly impossible mission, Brewster Kahle seems remarkably laid back. Relaxing in the black leather recliner that serves as his office chair, his stockinged feet wriggling with evident enthusiasm, the founder of the Internet Archive explains what has driven him for more than a decade. “We are trying to build Alexandria 2.0,” says Mr Kahle with a wide-eyed, boyish grin. Sure, and plenty of people are trying to abolish hunger, too. . . .
Having founded and sold technology companies to AOL and Amazon, he has now devoted himself to building a non-profit digital archive of free materials—books, films, concerts and so on—to rival the legendary Alexandrian library of antiquity. This has brought him into conflict with Google, the giant internet company which is pursuing a similar goal, but in a rather different (and more commercially oriented) way. . . .
[A]ll these things are steps towards Mr Kahle’s wider goal: to build the world’s largest digital library. He has recruited 135 libraries worldwide to openlibrary.org, the aim of which is to create a catalogue of every book ever published, with links to its full text where available. To that end, the Internet Archive is also digitising books on a large scale on behalf of its library partners. It scans more than 1,000 books every day, for which the libraries pay about $30 each. (The digital copy can then be made available by both parties.) . . . .
Underlying Mr Kahle’s enthusiasm for openness is an implicit criticism of the much larger book-scanning project being undertaken by Google. Like Mr Kahle, Google’s founders have a lofty goal: “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Since much of the world’s information is in books, this means large-scale scanning. But whereas Mr Kahle has focused on old books that are no longer protected by copyright, and making the full text available, Google’s Book Search project has scanned some 7m more recent works, most of them still covered by copyright, and allows access only to small chunks. . . .
It may be that a lack of library funds, rather than Google, poses the biggest short-term threat to Mr Kahle’s dream. Google covers the cost of scanning libraries’ books. But to get into Mr Kahle’s archive, libraries must either do their own scanning or pay the archive to do it. And, like everyone else, libraries are feeling the financial squeeze at the moment.
But Mr Kahle is taking a very long-term view. Universal online access to all knowledge may not be “a goal that is going to be finished in our lifetime,” says Mr Kahle. “But if you pick a goal far enough out, people can align to it. I am not interested in building an empire. Our idea is to build the future.”
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Brewster Kahle: The Internet's Librarian
The Economist recently (5 March, 2009) profiled Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive. Extracts: