034 – Eletronic books – 1971

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…to provide as many eBooks in as many formats as possible
for the entire world to read,  the declared goal of Michael Stern Hart

Vannevar Bush’s defined his Memex to be capable of containing the sum total of the world’s books with access for all.  As the capability of computers expanded others were inspired to bring this about.

Michael Stern Hart graduated in just two years from the University of Illinois where he was given valuable free access to the mainframe computer; at the time this was one of just fifteen ARPANET nodes.

He was motivated to type in the full text of the US Declaration of Independence and publish it digitally to the university network.

1971 Hart founded Project Gutenberg aiming to digitise the most referenced 10,000 public-domain books by the end of the 20th century.  He started the process by typing in the complete works of Shakespeare and Mark Twain. 

By 1987 he had personally typed in 300+ books.  He attracted a growing number of volunteers, stating his aim ‘to provide as many eBooks in as many formats as possible for the entire world to read in as many languages as possible.’  In 2000, the project was formalised into a non-profit organisation, the Project Gutenburg Library Archive Foundation Inc.

An Italian volunteer, Pietro Dim Miceli created the project’s website and catalogued the eBook texts through the nineties and early noughties.  It is hosted by ibiblio, the US public library digital archive and operates from the University of North Carolina.

2002 Charles Franks founded Distributed Proofreaders in order to give the project oomph.  He prompted volunteers to proofread the OCR submitted texts.  Optical character recognition had improved the speed of entry but at the cost of many misreads.  10,000 books were added in five years, by which time the project had amassed 34,000 books in total. 

In 1999 the project launched a CD of the top 1,000 eBooks from the catalogue and five years later released a DVD of 10,000 eBooks.  By July 2007 the DVD held 17,000 eBooks and in April 2010 a dual-layer DVD offered 30,000.  Some 40,000 disks had been issued by  2010.

Each eBook is first checked against US copyright law and only when cleared is it offered copyright-free; the project’s eBooks are not permitted to be used commercially.

Back in the 80s the Colombian poet and philosopher Zahur Klemath Zapata envisaged a book on a computer screen.  By 1993 he had developed the Digital Book v1 software to enable eReading digital books. 

Zapata published the first digital book, Thomas de Quincey’s ‘On Murder Considered as one of the Fine Arts’, then other public-domain books by classic authors including Kafka and Cervantes.

Later that year Digital Book Inc offered fifty eBooks on floppy disk using its digital book file software.  The organisation is owned by ZahurK Technologies Corp with offices in New York, Colombia and Pakistan.  Zapata tried to patent the Digital Book in the USA but the filing is shown as ‘abandoned – failure to respond or late filing’.

The first ISBN issued to an eBook was acquired by Kim Blagg in 1998.  It was for a CD-ROM multimedia publication. 

Earliest of the Kindle eBook readers from Amazon

– and a more recent version.

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