Long ago I read a spoof that poked fun at spelling checkers. It was disguised as a letter from an editor to Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. The editor was explaining his reasons for not publishing Jabberwocky and was trying to make sense of the poem after the spelling checker had offered its corrections and suggestions. Oh for those slithy troves!
Soon you too might be able to run your favorite spelling checker through Jabberwocky thanks to Project Gutenberg, which is dedicated to encouraging the creation and distribution of electronic English language texts. In a recent experiment, Project Gutenberg made Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland available to the general Internet public by putting it up for anonymous FTP. According to Michael Hart, Project Gutenberg's director, Alice has been a great hit with the online community. As an added benefit, he said that a number of people who had downloaded the electronic text had submitted corrections for typos in the text. In response to Alice In Wonderland's success, Project Gutenberg will soon be posting Through the Looking-glass and the Snark as well, so Carroll fans, be on the lookout!
If you are interested in checking out the electronic Alice, it's easy if you have access to FTP. Just type
-ftp firstname.lastname@example.org or ftp 126.96.36.199
(Your system may not know the actual name, the second address avoids this)
-anonymous (This is the login username)
-Any password works fine
-get alice.txt (it's about 150K)
If you do pick up Alice, be aware of Project Gutenberg's policy on releasing electronic texts (please note that this statement will change slightly in Alice 1.1, available soon with lots of good corrections): "This copy of Alice in Wonderland is hereby released in the CopyLeft traditions of the Free Software Foundation and Richard M. Stallman. This means the document is to be considered under copyright, and an individual may make as may copies for self and/or friends, etc. and will be under no obligation as long as this is not commercial. Not for profit corporations and all other corporate entities are not to distribute this file for any more cost to the user than $2 and only if a disk is provided for that fee. If you find errors, and we are sure you will, please email location of the errors to hart@uiucvmd, (BITNET) or email@example.com (INTERNET)." An admirable statement and one which we try to follow as well. Remember that any article in TidBITS may be freely copied for use in non-profit publications as long as we are clearly credited.
Project Gutenberg has taken on an enormous task, as their goal is to provide a collection of 10,000 of the most used books in the next ten years and to be able to provide those texts at a cost of about a penny per book (you will have to pay for your own disks and postage). That will put the cost of the entire library at about $100 US, which is pretty reasonable for 10,000 books (considering that I probably spend that much in a year in a single subject area alone). Of course floppy disks may be passe by then, but CD-ROMs may still be around and they will be ideal for such a storage task, assuming they haven't been supplanted by then by another storage medium that is far larger, like holographic images. Nevertheless, the task becomes much more imaginable if you consider the number of libraries in the US alone. Hart conservatively estimates 100,000 libraries, which would mean that if each library helped with Project Gutenberg, each library would only have to create a tenth of a text. Now admittedly, there is a bit more work in creating these things, since even the best OCR software makes mistakes and people are far worse (yes, many of Project Gutenberg's current texts have been typed in by hand. If you'd like to improve your typing speed, I'm sure they would love to give you something to work on.). If you are interested, they need people to proofread the electronic texts as much as they need people to enter them. Suggestions for what books to enter are also always welcome.
Project Gutenberg isn't in the slightest bit elitist about who wishes to help out. They gladly accept any electronic texts from anyone who has the inclination to enter some. If you wish, you can send texts to Michael Hart at the above address, or for those who can't access the Internet as easily, you can send them to the mailing address below.
If you are interested in more information about Project Gutenberg and you are on Bitnet or the Internet, you can get it directly by subscribing to the GUTNBERG discussion list. Send this message, SUB GUTNBERG YOUR NAME (where your name must be at least two words) to LISTSERV@UIUCVMD.BITNET. I've been reading and contributing to the GUTNBERG discussions for the last few months and have found them extremely interesting, though I may be biased because of my predilection for electronic texts. Electronic communication is the future, but with only a little effort, it can be the present as well. Project Gutenberg is one step, and we hope that TidBITS is another, but we're still waiting for electronic communications to coalesce and become the primary information source. We may have to wait for Ted Nelson's Xanadu for that day.
Michael S. Hart
P. O. Box 2782
Champaign, IL 61825