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Friday, September 9, 2011



by Michael S. Hart

I certainly wasn't the first person to type anything into a computer,
what I was was the first person to type something into a computer for
the purpose of creating an electronic book that would become the step
needed to start the creation of an electronic public library.

I have done an enormous amount of research to find eBooks, and never,
ever, found one from before July 1, 1971 that was intended to be made
publicly available as a general source of knowledge freely downloaded
from the Internet.

In fact, for some 30+ years no one ever publicly doubted that I could
have invented eBooks and/or eLibraries; pretty much only after Google
had their huge multi-million dollar media blitz that made everyone in
the world think they had just invented eBooks and eLibraries, back on
December 14, 2004, did anyone seem to want to displace me as a father
of the eBook/eLibrary movement.

Several candidates have been suggested.

The most of these was Doug Engelbart, inventor of the mouse, who made
a computer with an online manual, probably announced around 1969, but
only a few of these computers were ever sold, and at that time it was
only available on the actual computers, not for free download.  Since
that time that manual has been placed on the Internet for downloading
and retroactively given status as the first eBook by several people.

However, as much of a computer geek as I am, I don't think manuals of
specific computer instructions count as a book of general interest or
that including the manual in a few computers counts as publication in
the same sense that publication dates for books are not listed for an
entirely limited distribution of a few copies, but when a first major
publication of so many thousands of copies was first printed.

In addition, Doug Engelbart patented the mouse two years later, never
patented or trademarked the concept of eBooks, which someone like him
would have done had he thought of eBooks the way I did.

In fact, I did think of patenting and trademarking eBooks, but I will
have to honestly say that I wanted to change the world more than I am
interested in profiting from such a change, and this was true before,
during, and after the entire Computer Revolution and .com boom.

The only reason I have at present for regretting that decision is the
misuse of the word eBook by those who are too lazy to proofread those
words and images of words they have scanned into their computers.

A picture of a book is not an eBooks, even an electronic picture.

An eBook has to be searchable, quotable, a source for new editions or
republication of old editions, and be trivial to read, search, quote,
and all those things via all common hardware/software combinations.

If I had trademarked the word eBook, I could insist on that, perhaps,
just perhaps, making some kind of delineation between Google's scans,
search files, and the kind of eBooks anyone can download and read for
the rest of history.

What you get with these false eBooks are overly large files that have
less usefulness than plain text or HTML files.  However, I will first
admit that some of these false eBooks are very pretty, but I am first
thinking of the utilitarian aspect of invention such as The Gutenberg
Press, how it changed the world from illiterate to literate, how this
invention created a Scientific Revolution, The Industrial Revolution,
and invented the entire concept of mass production.

Can you name any other invention that changed the world so much?

At least one other potential candidate for the first eBook came along
and after years and years of searching I finally found a copy but the
person who created this book asked me not to mention it, and I should
keep my promise not to.  All I can really say about it was that it is
not the kind of book one would actually sit down and read in a format
such as it was presented, it was meant for computers to read, not for
human beings to read.

If you look around the Project Gutenberg eLibrary you will often have
the opportunity to see references to the fact the Project Gutenberg's
eBooks were originally designed for BOTH people and computers to read
with equal ease an utility.

There are also several large universities who blatantly tell you that
they have the largest and oldest eLibraries in the world, but none in
the world will actually say they started before July 4, 1971 and none
have 100,000+ eBooks you can download any time you want, much less to
put on your own sites, use to create your own editions, etc. etc.

The truth is that virtually all of the other eBook enterprises should
be considered as part of the world of "Limited Distribution" while it
should be considered that Project Gutenberg was the very first of the
new breed of enterprises based on "Unlimited Distribution."

The idea/ideal of Project Gutenberg was the first understanding of an
Internet possibility of creating something that everyone could have--
for all the rest of history--like what came out of the fictional Star
Trek replicator.

Anyone could type in a book, anywhere, and send it Project Gutenberg,
and it becomes available to over a billion Internet users overnight--
and each of them can pass it on to whomever they like as long as none
of them are charged more than for a disk containing the eBooks.

This is the virtue of "Unlimited Distribution" and it has been a main
hallmark of Project Gutenberg from the very beginning.

What most of the "Limited Distribution" enterprises do is try to make
you come to them every time you want to use a book.

They put ads on their sites and get paid every time you visit.

Project Gutenberg has never put ads on their sites and encourages YOU
to create your own "Personal Library" on your own "Personal Computer"
so you can have access to a million eBooks any time you want, not any
time someone else lets you in. . .we think you should have eLibraries
all the time, even when your Internet gateway is down, even when they
have closed their sites for maintenance, or longer.

If you do a search for any Project Gutenberg eBooks you are likely to
find more copies in your search results than you could ever want, but
the point is that even when huge portions of the Internet were down a
while back due to electrical blackouts, you could still find a number
of sources for Project Gutenberg eBooks when it was difficult for any
eBooks to be found at other sites.

Project Gutenberg eBooks are a permanent part of the Internet and the
eBooks have been all along.

eBooks come and go from other eBook sites, other eBooks sites come or
go from time to time, but Project Gutenberg has always been there.

The big reason is Project Gutenberg is for the benefit of everyone in
the world equally, not more for anyone than anyone else, me included.
You probably would shudder at the thought of trading incomes with me,
as most of my years with Project Gutenberg have been volunteered, and
I rarely get paid, only our accountants get paid regularly.

Project Gutenberg can't really be shut down for lack of money, as the
money has never been there to begin with, and thus Project Gutenberg,
such as it is, has been the most permanent fixture on the Internet in
all the time since it first went coast to coast in the U.S.

In all that time Project Gutenberg has never received a major grant.

Google and Yahoo will tell you they are scanning 500 - 1,000 books in
a single day, and if that were at all true for the 22 month Google is
now approaching, some 700 days, Google should have some 700,000 books
in their The Google Print Library/Google Book Search program, but the
total looks more like 100,000, and I'm not sure you can download half
of that total, or even read half.  Yahoo says 500 per day and only in
period of perhaps 11 months, which would be 150,000+ eBooks, but this
would also be extremely hard to find in real life. . .estimates range
more around 10,000 - 15,000 than 100,000 - 150,000.

However, you can visit the following Project Gutenberg sites any day,
and find a total of over 100,000 eBooks free for the taking, and they
are all books you can repost on your own site without asking, as long
as no fees are charged for membership or downloading.

As of about October 1, 2006:

 21,500 eBooks at   ~50 languages
100,000 eBooks at   ~100 languages
  1,290 eBooks at  PG of Australia
    350 eBooks at      ~65 languages 
        via Project Gutenberg of Europe
    376 eBooks at
        These are eBooks not quite ready for prime time.

In addition, Project Gutenberg sponsors The World eBook Fair which is
giving away 400,000 - 500,000 eBooks as of this writing.

Go there...

Project Gutenberg - Michael Hart's Online Writings
Michael Hart (1947 - 2011): Prophet of Abundance - Open Enterprise
Michael Hart
About - Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg (1971-2008) by Marie Lebert - Project Gutenberg
Results tagged 'copyright' - Blogs - Technology Blog and Community from IT Experts -
Help Stop the Blind Being Kicked in the Teeth Again - Open Enterprise
Category:Bookshelf - Gutenberg
All For: science (sorted by popularity)
Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes - Project Gutenberg
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells - Project Gutenberg
Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes
World eBook Fair
World Public Library

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