On October 3, I went to the annual birthday bash at the Internet Archive, which aims to provide free digital access to all of the world’s knowledge. That includes not only stuff that’s in print but also music, art, television news and programs, and video games. The event is held at a former church in San Francisco’s foggy Richmond district, but last night it was unseasonably warm and welcoming, with swarms of Internet celebs and groupies crowding the sidewalk, checking out demos on outdoor tables, and imbibing spirits as well as free tacos from two trucks straddling Clement Street.
More than a thousand people came to celebrate founder Brewster Kahle’s vision of a decentralized web and I was surprised that so many of my tech friends – all brilliant and selfless champions of the archive’s goals – now work at the Internet Archive. Standing on the steps to greet everyone with a pass was Mark Seiden, the prince of cybersecurity, whose past includes consulting work for U.S. spook agencies as well as a stint at Yahoo and who now works part-time securing privacy for archive users. David Fox, founder of astrology.com and a former client of mine, is now levering his horoscope as development director, and Mark Graham, director of the Wayback Machine, was previously a senior VP with NBC News, where I worked with his team to publicize a live streaming video platform called Stringwire.
Outside, where ice cream sandwiches were being hand delivered after the hour and half presentation of new deliverables from the archive staff and a commitment by Kahle to build a better web that is reliable, includes community partners, represents the unheard (such as Tibetan Buddhists), and is less creepy and more fun, I ran into my friend and animator Albert Reinhardt, who told me he quit consulting and now works for the archive as well.
It’s always a reunion at this event with Berkeley Cybersalon and BMUG friends, like Dan Kottke, Apple’s first employee and a college roommate of Steve Jobs, and Ted Nelson, founder of the everlasting Xanadu and hyperlink, who at 81 was taking selfies and smiling broadly at the announcement of a new archive collection: TedNelsonjunkmail, which someone scanned and posted on the archive site for posterity. I also caught up with former NY Times tech and science reporter and fellow cyclist John Markoff, who will be publishing a biography of Stewart Brand next spring, as well as historian Marc Weber and Len Shustek, board chairman of the Computer History Museum.
Dancing in a courtyard followed the presentation and it reminded me of how much sheer fun and camaraderie rather than competitiveness used to characterize tech events in the 80s and 90s. We didn’t take ourselves so seriously and yet, looking back, we accomplished some serious achievements, including the archive.
The Internet Archive is expanding its reach to millions of school children with a library project that will deliver tens of thousands of books to young readers. It’s ironic that Kahle was able to start the archive and now is investing in this book campaign by selling his previous company, Alexa, to Amazon, a purveyor of books that are not free.
Also ironic, or perhaps inevitable, is that by preserving the past, the Internet Archive is also architecting a new way to share knowledge in the future. It’s called the decentralized web and will eventually insure all the qualities Kahle and those who participated in the archive’s celebration originally hoped the Internet would offer.