Interview with the Inventor of the eBook


You may not know his name, but you almost certainly know his work.  Michael Hart founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today. 

Single minded in its mission “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks”, the official site currently houses more than 26,000 books with over 400 monthly and caters to a million books being downloaded every month.  This does not include sister sites like which hosts more than 74,000 books at this point.

It’s not everyday I get the chance to pick the brain of an Internet pioneer, so here are some of the nuggets from my interview with Michael Hart. 

Thoughts on the evolution of eBooks

The greatest differences I see for the next five years will be the use of eBooks on cell phones, as the majority of the world will be using cell phones by the end of 2006. . .causing many changes, and the translation of eBooks to many different languages.

Thoughts on translating books to multiple languages

A “Machine Translation Era” is now beginning at about the point where OCR was less than 20 years ago.  [OCR = Optical Character Recognition] Eventually this will be good enough that most readers can get some idea of a book’s content without a human translator… but it has to take a while getting there, and human translators will be quite a bit busier with Machine Translation, rather than out of work. “

Thoughts on the dropping price of storage and its impact on eBooks

In addition, I see the ability of public to carry entire libraries of books with them on a keychain or a necklace with the RAMsticks, USBdrives, Pendrves, Flashdrives, etc., as they are called. These now carry 1,000 times as much as they did when they were released, just 6 years ago!!!  I just bought some 8 gig versions for $60.  That’s 1,000 times as much for the same price as 6 years ago!!!  Not to mention the new terabyte hard drives for under $400 and the half terabyte drives for under $100. 

Each terabyte can hold 1 million plain text eBooks, uncompressed– or about 2.5 million using compression programs such as ZIP.  “The personal computer” becomes “the personal library.

Thoughts on having multiple sister sites rather than housing everything under the official site

The greatest benefit of the Internet is its multiplicity, the fact that there are lots of ways to get from one place to another, so if a normal gateway is down, you can get around it with no trouble. 

The same is true by having multiple sites for Project Gutenberg, or any other items that you want to be sure people can get.  There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of sites carrying the Gutenberg books, and thus if you can’t get to one, you can almost certainly do an engine search to find any number of other copies

Note: Here are some links to try.

100,000 eBooks easy to download at:

  1. Official site [coming up on 25,000 eBooks]
  2. [already passed 75,000 eBooks]
  3.   Project Gutenberg of Australia 1500+
  4. 65 languages  PG of Europe ~500
  5.  Project Gutenberg of Canada

Bonus tip: Looking for for the ultimate guide to free books?  Look no more!

[tags] ebooks, project gutenberg, interview, michael hart [/tags]

What do you think about Project Gutenberg, or eBooks in general?  Tell us in the comments!

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