Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books available on the Internet. It was founded in 1971 by Michael Hart, who created the concept of the eBook. As of August 2006, the project has made over 19,000 eBooks available, with an average of 400 more being added each month.
In 1971, Hart was given a $100,000,000 allocation of computing time by the operators of the Xerox Sigma V mainframe at the Materials Research Lab at the University of Illinois. (At that time, computing capacity was expensive, and often measured by a dollar cost of what it took to operate the mainframe for the allotted amount of time.) He was unsure how to best use this opportunity, but after some contemplation he determined that "the greatest value created by computers would not be computing, but would be the storage, retrieval, and searching of what was stored in our libraries".
Hart then manually typed a copy of the Declaration of Independence into a plain-text data file, and tried to send it to everyone on the networks. He was then advised that it would be more efficient to create an online archive of documents for others to retrieve on demand, and Project Gutenberg was born.
Project Gutenberg Philosophy
The premise on which Michael Hart based Project Gutenberg was that once an electronic version of content was created, it could be reproduced indefinitely and made available to others. To support this premise, electronic texts (Etexts) created by Project Gutenberg are made available in the simplest, easiest to use forms available.
Project Gutenberg Etexts are therefore made available in what has become known as "Plain Vanilla ASCII," meaning the low set of the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. This is the same kind of character you read on a normal printed page — italics, underlines, and bolds have been capitalized. This allows the greatest compatibility with different types of text-viewing software.
Project Gutenberg Sections
There are three portions of the Project Gutenberg Library, basically be described as:
- Light Literature; such as Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, Peter Pan, Aesop's Fables, etc.
- Heavy Literature; such as the Bible or other religious documents, Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, etc.
- References; such as Roget's Thesaurus, almanacs, and a set of encyclopedia, dictionaries, etc.