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The Internet Archive

Since I was little I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of a library. The idea that society is committed to preserving human kind’s accumulated intelligence so that future generations could build upon that knowledge is a powerful concept for me. I liked getting lost in the stacks, pulling a book at random not exactly sure what I was about to learn. Maybe this fascination, in part, came from my great aunt, Ethel Blumberg, who was a librarian.

When I read that the world’s largest digital library (The Internet Archive) was giving free tours, I got a little excited. I tried to talk someone into going with me, but I got laughed at as if this would be the most boring tour imaginable. I got no takers. I went by myself. And it was fascinating.

This 20-year old non-profit has the mission of archiving everything and making it available to everyone free of charge. The founder, Brewster Kahle, was a successful internet pioneer and he turned his energy (and his own money) to this cause. And he was our very enthusiastic tour guide.

He has archived every webpage for 20 years, has put huge efforts into archiving books, music, movies, and even home videos. Since 2009 they have been created a digital archive of everything streamed by 60 different news channels around the world. Using the TV closed captions, they’ve made all this video fully searchable. Do you ever wonder how Jon Stewart found that collection of clips all on a narrow topic? This is how and any of us can do that.

When a building came up for sale that looked exactly like their logo, they felt compelled to buy it. The fact that it was a church was not reason to remodel, but instead they transformed this into a church of data. At the back of the main auditorium sits two large arches filled with servers (six towers each with 360 eight TB drives). This represents 5 petabytes of data with the other 25 petabytes spread in locations around the world. The data has no clean room. No air conditioning.  Just hundreds of blinking lights as 600,000 people access the archive every day.

After Brewster visited Xian, China and saw the Terra Cotta Warriors, he wanted to memorialize the army of volunteers who made this possible and created his own Internet Warrior collection of employees with a minimum of three years of service.  See the photos below.

Maybe you’ll get lost in the data like I have…


May 5, 2017

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