October 24, 2003

The Great Library of Amazonia

In his small, ranch-style Palo Alto house, Manber and I sit side by side at a table near the kitchen as he begins typing my queries into his laptop. The computer is connected to a prototype of the archive, which at the time of my visit is scheduled to go live in a few weeks. Within seconds, I am captivated. The experience reminds me of how I felt a decade ago, when I first began browsing the Web. Back then, the Web was still small, and most of my time was spent peeking into the homepages of physicists and engineers. Even so, the power of the new network was unmistakable. The thrill didn't come from the content of the pages but from the structure of the Web itself, its obvious scalability and ease of navigation.

So true so true. In 1995 I crawled the web every day reading scientific papers on Mosaic and I remember the same feeling. The sheer structure-ness of what I was doing, participating in, and observing literally fired my passion and imagination.

This is just thrilling. But Amazon's scheme would never work if users really wanted their books in digital form. The magic of the archive lies in the assumption that physical books are irreplaceable. The electronic text is simply an enhancement of the physical object.

And then, "What's the average lifespan of a Web page?" Kahle asks me when we meet, and then answers himself: "One hundred days!"

Posted by filchyboy at October 24, 2003 10:26 PM | TrackBack


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