Blogs Centerpoints Conference Notes

“Public or Perish”: Brewster Kahle at MW2007

What would it take to create a free online library of all human knowledge? Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, addressed the question at Museums & the Web yesterday. A “library of everything” — which he likens to a “Library of Alexandria, version two” — is within our grasp he says, but it’ll take […]

laptop.jpgWhat would it take to create a free online library of all human knowledge? Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, addressed the question at Museums & the Web yesterday. A “library of everything” — which he likens to a “Library of Alexandria, version two” — is within our grasp he says, but it’ll take time, money, and, most important of all, political will to digitize cultural content and make it accessible to all.

Best known for its Wayback Machine, a collection of snapshots of web sites from the last decade, the San Francisco-based Internet Archive was founded in 1996 and has been digitizing material ever since. In that time, Kahle’s come up with some pretty good guesses how much it’d cost to put various types of information online.

In all cases — books, videos, audio recordings, and software — the problem isn’t the cost of storage or digitizing, it’s getting rights from authors or the corporate copyright holders. For instance, to store the entire 28 million volume Library of Congress, it would take about 100 terrabytes of storage space, at a cost of around $150,000. Likewise, to scan and digitize a book would cost around $30 apiece. But legal fees to get a narrow three-year exemption to copyright laws so the Archive could preserve computer software cost $30,000 in legal fees alone.

Books: For starters, Kahle said it would only cost around $150,000 to store digitized versions of the U.S. Library of Congress’s 28 million books (he said it’d take around 100 terrabytes of storage space). But the problem is how to affordably scan such books — or the remaining 70-odd million titles in the world. Kahle bought 100,000 books and shipped them to India to be scanned and shipped back to the US at around $10 apiece. If libraries could scan book pages here in the US, it’d be much cheaper — around a dime a page, using the Scribe, a book-scanning station Internet Archive devised.

He also spoke enthusiastically about accessibility projects, like the Archive’s digital bookmobile that allows individuals to print and bind titles from a list of a million digital books. The cost is a penny a page, or a dollar for a 100-page book. Compare that, Kahle said, to the costs of lending books, which Harvard study put at $3 per book. The Archive had bookmobiles in Uganda (“It was kind of cool to have kids making the first book they’ve ever owned”) and Egypt, near the site of the library of Alexandria.

Kahle showed off one of the first 300 $100 laptops created by MIT through the One Laptop Per Child project. The tiny computers have a swivel screen that turns a traditional laptop to a flat e-book reader, and has access to Archive’s book list.

Audio: As with books, storage of audio is relatively affordable, and the Internet Archive makes a pretty hard-to-refuse deal: they’ll host anyone’s audio online free, forever. Music tapers have jumped at that offer, and Kahle says his site offers free access to more than 36,000 live concerts, all posted with the permission of artists and “including everything the Grateful Dead has ever done.” In its ever-growing colleciton, the Internet Archive has 100,000 audio items online, from Mother Jones Radio to Berkeley Groks Science Radio, the Tse Chen Ling Buddhist Lectures to Free Speech Radio News’ broadcasts.

Moving Images, Software: There are probably as many as 200,000 large-scale movies (of Hollywood/Bollywood type) in the world. Only around 800 public-domain movies are online, plus around 55,000 other videos of user-generated content, political speeches, historic films like those in the Prelinger Archive, etc. Kahle said he’s suirpirsed at the popularity of two items: stop-action videos made using Lego figures, and “speed runs,” videogamers who record themselves playing games as fast as possible and documenting their process (Kahle said the IA server crashed this week because of the popularity of one such video).

The Internet Archive also collects software, retrieving old applications from floppy disks and other old media. With funding and storage space set up, the problem, again, has been rights. Thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Archive had to spend $30,000 in legal fees to get a three-year, “very narrow exemption” that would allow them to archive software. (He described the DMCA as “a sort of Soviet-era law. Everything’s illegal unless we tell you it’s OK.”)

As Kahle linked the discussion to the museum technologists in the room, he pointed out the problem with creating an online Library of Alexandria.

“The Library of Alexandria,” he said, “is best known for, er, burning.”

The lesson: “Don’t just have one copy.” He said the Internet Archive has multiple copies of everything, including a set that was gifted to the Library of Alexandria itself. In exchange, the library traded materials in Arabic.

As he closed, Kahle challenged museums and nonprofits to step up and be more active in the digitization and presentation of materials. If nonprofits don’t, corporations will govern the discussion, likely putting material behind paywalls or making it accessible only through their own proprietary websites.

He summed it up succinctly: “Public or perish.”

“ If we don’t take a strong role in building public services in the public sphere, I think we’ll have a diminishing role in the future except as a physical repository of artifacts,” he said.

PUSH: “A social revolution, not a technological one”

Cameron Sinclair, MIT student Franz Gastler, Ze Frank I know of Ze (that’s “zay,” short for Hosea) Frank through the ze frank show, his weird and wonderful daily videoblog performance musings (check out his recent Minneapolis-themed posts: 1, 2), and through his-claim-to-fame accidental viral How to Dance Properly (accidental, because he created it for his […]

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Cameron Sinclair, MIT student Franz Gastler, Ze Frank

I know of Ze (that’s “zay,” short for Hosea) Frank through the ze frank show, his weird and wonderful daily videoblog performance musings (check out his recent Minneapolis-themed posts: 1, 2), and through his-claim-to-fame accidental viral How to Dance Properly (accidental, because he created it for his 29th birthday announcement and it swept the net). So I was prepared to be entertained, but not to get a pretty remarkable presentation on social networking technologies as well. As PUSH is sort of a leadership/futurism/marketing conference, Frank put these technologies in that vernacular. Ze’s axioms:

“The audience is learning your language.” People now know more about, say, video editing than ever before; 20 years ago, we never thought of the “opaque craft” of editing, but now people revel in it: “You’re being manipulated… and it’s fun!” He adds, “People have favorite fonts. That’s totally freakin’ weird! That people know Verdana should scare the shit out of you.”

“If you don’t talk with your audience, they will talk behind your back.” Case in point: when that guy awhile back discovered a Kryptonite bike lock could be picked with a Bic pen and he posted his findings on the internet, Kryptonite never responded–and didn’t even seem to have a channel to respond.

“Conversations resist top-down control.” When Chevy created a site for users to create their own TV spots about their Tahoe, users made mash-ups alright–critical of the monster SUV. As Frank points out, the site was configured to tell mash-up creators which adjectives to use to frame their commercials.

“Conversations are flexible.” When Friendster started up, users wanted to do more than just hook up, they wanted to create personae and have fun. They’d create fake identities, says Frank, “so that The Hulk would be leaving messages for Ralph Macchio–and it was fun!” But Friendster clamped down on such faux IDs. MySpace, on the other hand, allows such shenanigans and even expects users to design their own pages–often poorly. “This is an audience that’s ready to do stuff…. Even if it means making their world look like crap.”

“They will show you what is interesting.” When Frank created a collaborative fiction-writing application on his site, it was a dud with users. But after awhile, he realized people were modding it–using the application to make haikus, stories written cooperatively two words at a time, etc.–to serve their own interests.

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“Listen at all levels of the conversation (not just the noisy ones).” In Wired, Chris Anderson wrote about “The Long Tail,” which takes its title from the long shallow part of an X/Y graph that plots consumer sales. The big bump at the first part of the graph–the hardcore few who buy or use multiple times–eventually gives way to a long, shallow “tail” that represents those users/buyers who only interact with your product or service once or twice. Confusing to explain (that’s why Anderson has a blog), but one of Ze’s examples crystallizes it: Amazon.com makes more money from the book titles not on its top 130,000 list than it does from the top-titles list, and the music downloading site Rhapsody, he says, streams more songs each month beyond it’s top 10,000 than it does in its top 10,000. So listen not just to the hardcore audiences but to those dabblers and samplers as well.

The Meaning of Life in Game Form: Check out Ze Frank‘s games Atheist, Buddhist and Christian.

PUSH: Todd Reynolds & Luke DuBois

After training as a classical violinist and getting a job at a major symphony orchestra, Todd Reynolds realized “I would only be happy working with people who were alive.” So he left and was a founding member of Ethel (what he describes as “the improvising Kronos“), and he played with Bang on a Can All-Stars […]

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After training as a classical violinist and getting a job at a major symphony orchestra, Todd Reynolds realized “I would only be happy working with people who were alive.” So he left and was a founding member of Ethel (what he describes as “the improvising Kronos“), and he played with Bang on a Can All-Stars and Steve Reich, as well as doing solo work. An ongoing theme of PUSH–and Reynolds’ life and work–is the blurring of lines between play and work. He says:

“I was quite a failure at playing when I was young. Turns out I just didn’t have the right toys.”

Indeed. He performed at PUSH with Luke DuBois, a video artist and musician, who “accompanied” Reynold’s violin with a graphical computer visualization system that dynamically represented Reynold’s playing as changing patterns projected on a screen. There’s an “overuse of amplification” in contemporary classical music, DuBois says, so he created “visual strategies to embody and amplify” so that audiences could see the amplification but only hear a more pure sound. (DuBois also showed a few of his art pieces: Billboard, which compresses every #1 hit in the Billboard top 100, with one second representing the number of weeks the song stayed at the top; Academy, which compressed every Oscar winner into a 76-minute video; and Play, which shows every Playboy Playmate over 50 years in 50 seconds–”with their eyes centered”; he calls it “time-lapse pornography.”)

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DuBois’ Play; image via MAKE blog

The performance was enveloping (heightened by my third-row seat): Reynolds improvised (I think) while DuBois’ images spiraled and hovered on-screen. While the two artists have collaborated many times, DuBois says one characteristic of their work is that as a composer, DuBois has never considered writing music for Reynolds, and Reynolds has never scored one of DuBois film works. Both seem to believe they produce better art when they’re not imposing their own ideas on the other.

DuBois’ last words seemed to fit the theme of the conference, on both collaboration/connection and risk. He recalled a college professor who, remarking on how the comfortable and unchallenged never sparked revolutions, said, “History is made by the unprotected.”

PUSH: Todd Reynolds & Luke DuBois

After training as a classical violinist and getting a job at a major symphony orchestra, Todd Reynolds realized “I would only be happy working with people who were alive.” So he left and was a founding member of Ethel (what he describes as “the improvising Kronos“), and he played with Bang on a Can All-Stars […]

reynoldsdubois.jpg

After training as a classical violinist and getting a job at a major symphony orchestra, Todd Reynolds realized “I would only be happy working with people who were alive.” So he left and was a founding member of Ethel (what he describes as “the improvising Kronos“), and he played with Bang on a Can All-Stars and Steve Reich, as well as doing solo work. An ongoing theme of PUSH–and Reynolds’ life and work–is the blurring of lines between play and work. He says:

“I was quite a failure at playing when I was young. Turns out I just didn’t have the right toys.”

Indeed. He performed at PUSH with Luke DuBois, a video artist and musician, who “accompanied” Reynold’s violin with a graphical computer visualization system that dynamically represented Reynold’s playing as changing patterns projected on a screen. There’s an “overuse of amplification” in contemporary classical music, DuBois says, so he created “visual strategies to embody and amplify” so that audiences could see the amplification but only hear a more pure sound. (DuBois also showed a few of his art pieces: Billboard, which compresses every #1 hit in the Billboard top 100, with one second representing the number of weeks the song stayed at the top; Academy, which compressed every Oscar winner into a 76-minute video; and Play, which shows every Playboy Playmate over 50 years in 50 seconds–”with their eyes centered”; he calls it “time-lapse pornography.”)

IMG_1111.jpg

DuBois’ Play; image via MAKE blog

The performance was enveloping (heightened by my third-row seat): Reynolds improvised (I think) while DuBois’ images spiraled and hovered on-screen. While the two artists have collaborated many times, DuBois says one characteristic of their work is that as a composer, DuBois has never considered writing music for Reynolds, and Reynolds has never scored one of DuBois film works. Both seem to believe they produce better art when they’re not imposing their own ideas on the other.

DuBois’ last words seemed to fit the theme of the conference, on both collaboration/connection and risk. He recalled a college professor who, remarking on how the comfortable and unchallenged never sparked revolutions, said, “History is made by the unprotected.”

PUSH: Todd Reynolds & Luke DuBois

After training as a classical violinist and getting a job at a major symphony orchestra, Todd Reynolds realized “I would only be happy working with people who were alive.” So he left and was a founding member of Ethel (what he describes as “the improvising Kronos“), and he played with Bang on a Can All-Stars […]

reynoldsdubois.jpg

After training as a classical violinist and getting a job at a major symphony orchestra, Todd Reynolds realized “I would only be happy working with people who were alive.” So he left and was a founding member of Ethel (what he describes as “the improvising Kronos“), and he played with Bang on a Can All-Stars and Steve Reich, as well as doing solo work. An ongoing theme of PUSH–and Reynolds’ life and work–is the blurring of lines between play and work. He says:

“I was quite a failure at playing when I was young. Turns out I just didn’t have the right toys.”

Indeed. He performed at PUSH with Luke DuBois, a video artist and musician, who “accompanied” Reynold’s violin with a graphical computer visualization system that dynamically represented Reynold’s playing as changing patterns projected on a screen. There’s an “overuse of amplification” in contemporary classical music, DuBois says, so he created “visual strategies to embody and amplify” so that audiences could see the amplification but only hear a more pure sound. (DuBois also showed a few of his art pieces: Billboard, which compresses every #1 hit in the Billboard top 100, with one second representing the number of weeks the song stayed at the top; Academy, which compressed every Oscar winner into a 76-minute video; and Play, which shows every Playboy Playmate over 50 years in 50 seconds–”with their eyes centered”; he calls it “time-lapse pornography.”)

IMG_1111.jpg

DuBois’ Play; image via MAKE blog

The performance was enveloping (heightened by my third-row seat): Reynolds improvised (I think) while DuBois’ images spiraled and hovered on-screen. While the two artists have collaborated many times, DuBois says one characteristic of their work is that as a composer, DuBois has never considered writing music for Reynolds, and Reynolds has never scored one of DuBois film works. Both seem to believe they produce better art when they’re not imposing their own ideas on the other.

DuBois’ last words seemed to fit the theme of the conference, on both collaboration/connection and risk. He recalled a college professor who, remarking on how the comfortable and unchallenged never sparked revolutions, said, “History is made by the unprotected.”

PUSH: Notes

Bart Gottschalk has been posting his PUSH notes on his blog, Swirling Planet Times, if you want to quicker access to what’s been going on. Thanks, Bart.

Bart Gottschalk has been posting his PUSH notes on his blog, Swirling Planet Times, if you want to quicker access to what’s been going on. Thanks, Bart.

PUSH: Portrait

Muy meta: A self-portrait of Cameron Sinclair, who hits the stage next, with Leif Utne in the background:

PUSH: “Science is not a threat to a moral world.”

I blame my liveblogging backlog on two things: my email and physicist/cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, today’s first speaker–not really: actually I blame the confluence of the two. I (rudely!) checked my email as he began his talk and, for those 30 seconds, I lost track of the trajectory of Krauss’ brilliant, rapidfire discussion on the shape, […]

I blame my liveblogging backlog on two things: my email and physicist/cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, today’s first speaker–not really: actually I blame the confluence of the two. I (rudely!) checked my email as he began his talk and, for those 30 seconds, I lost track of the trajectory of Krauss’ brilliant, rapidfire discussion on the shape, size, age, and expansion of the universe. I won’t even try to sort through it all (the concavity or flatness of the universe, the 11 or 12 dimensions investigated by string theorists, the essence of “dark matter,” Einstein’s axiom that space curves in the presence of matter, to name a mind-blowing few).

What did make sense to a right-brainer like me was Krauss’ thinking on so-called intelligent design. “There’s no evidence of design in nature. None!” he says, equating the alternative to evolution as a fear of science. The vast number of species that once existed are now extinct. Is that intelligent design? George W. Bush advocates for teaching “both sides” of the evolution/ID debate, says Krauss, but notes a contradiction: “With avian flu, you don’t hear him saying ‘it’s been designed, we’re going to die.’ They turn to science.”

One of the problems with such debate–aside from the fact that there is no “side” represented by ID, as the only commonality as Krauss sees it between its various proponents is an opposition to evolution–is adhering a particiular belief system to it. “Science is independent of questions of purpose,” he says, relating the story of Belgian priest Georges Lemaitre, who urged Pope Pius to retract a statement that science had “proven” the book of Genesis.

“ Only when we are willing to accept the Universe for what it is, without fear, will we be able to build a just society,” Krauss says. “Science is not a threat to a moral world.”

And: Don’t miss the trailer for Flock of Dodos, a soon-to-be-released documentary on intelligent design and other “alternative belief” systems.

PUSH: Coming up for air

I’m here, and I’m taking notes, but there’s so much–from the technical (astrophysics, nanotechnology) to the artistic (a violinist performing with visual accompaniment generated by computer) to the businessy (Ze Frank’s hilariously insightful presentation on technological revolutions that are really mostly about social networks). I’ll slowly put up posts on the rest of the sessions, […]

I’m here, and I’m taking notes, but there’s so much–from the technical (astrophysics, nanotechnology) to the artistic (a violinist performing with visual accompaniment generated by computer) to the businessy (Ze Frank’s hilariously insightful presentation on technological revolutions that are really mostly about social networks). I’ll slowly put up posts on the rest of the sessions, but it’ll likely be spread over several days. More to come…

PUSH: Coming up for air

I’m here, and I’m taking notes, but there’s so much–from the technical (astrophysics, nanotechnology) to the artistic (a violinist performing with visual accompaniment generated by computer) to the businessy (Ze Frank’s hilariously insightful presentation on technological revolutions that are really mostly about social networks). I’ll slowly put up posts on the rest of the sessions, […]

I’m here, and I’m taking notes, but there’s so much–from the technical (astrophysics, nanotechnology) to the artistic (a violinist performing with visual accompaniment generated by computer) to the businessy (Ze Frank’s hilariously insightful presentation on technological revolutions that are really mostly about social networks). I’ll slowly put up posts on the rest of the sessions, but it’ll likely be spread over several days. More to come…

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