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Death of a modern-day Gutenberg

Posted by: | September 13, 2011 | No Comment |

Few people could be considered visionaries of their time. Michael Stern Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, could be seen as one of these rare visionaries.

Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg (Source: blog.reprap.org)

In 1971, it was far fetched to imagine the progression of technology to its current levels. Yet, Michael Hart was able to see the continuous need for books and the demand for easily accessible content.  Hart’s solution was the electronic book, or ebook, an electronic file that contained the text of an actual book.

Hart’s first self-assigned project as a student at the University of Illinois was to create a file that could be transmitted throughout the school’s network. He used the university’s computer network similarly to ARPANET, the origin for today’s Internet.

As Hart realized the power of what he had accomplished, Hart saw his feat being comparable to that of Johannes Gutenberg. While Gutenberg and his printing press allowed for oral tradition to become mass-produced written tradition, Hart allowed for these written works to be accessed, just as easily, in an increasingly electronic world.

In Project Gutenberg’s infancy, there were just a few people working tirelessly to convert physical texts into electronic files. Now the volunteer effort spans across the United States and into other countries, as well. The database has also grown from the first ebook, the Declaration of Independence, into a database of over 36,000 downloadable public domain books.

Michael S. Hart recently passed away at the age of 64 on Sept. 6, 2011. Although he is no longer able to contribute to Project Gutenberg physically, he has laid an amazing groundwork for a service that satisfies a growing demand for both literature and knowledge.

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