Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


RIP Michael S. Hart
September 7, 2011 5:39 PM   Subscribe

Project Gutenberg founder Michael S. Hart, who first conceived of ebooks in 1971, has died at age 64.
posted by maud (93 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
.

The Internet needs more people like this and less like thi$.
posted by lubujackson at 5:44 PM on September 7, 2011 [18 favorites]


.
posted by peppermind at 5:46 PM on September 7, 2011


Thank you for giving something good to the world.
posted by Jehan at 5:47 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


He made the world better for posterity, which is a damn good thing to have done.
posted by ardgedee at 5:49 PM on September 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:50 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by gnidan at 5:52 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by zennie at 5:53 PM on September 7, 2011


I feel like I owe him so much. Participating in Project Gutenberg's Distributed Proofreaders project helped launch my career a decade ago, but that's not the half of it. I wouldn't be who I am without the profound revelations and connections that have come to me in a world where information is free, just like Michael liked it.

.
posted by mynameisluka at 5:54 PM on September 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


PG was my first exposure to the idea that teh internets could be more than just niche interests and porn.


.
posted by lekvar at 5:55 PM on September 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


.
posted by sebastienbailard at 5:59 PM on September 7, 2011


***
posted by wobh at 6:00 PM on September 7, 2011


I remember how excited I was when Project Gutenberg came around. It seemed like such a profound paradigm shift at the time.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:00 PM on September 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


He was like Gutenberg, in a way. Bringing books to the masses.

.
posted by stroke_count at 6:05 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


.

I used to correspond with Michael, on and off, from ideas on John Mark Ockerbloom's bookpeople list. Hart always seemed to be fizzing with ideas, including finding ways of sending as many books as possible to people. I got him attached to the tiny Kingmax USB sticks (then the amazingly cheap $5 for 1GB) and he bought up a bunch and sent them out filled with books.

Michael, I raise a slice of sugar pizza to you!
posted by scruss at 6:07 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Heck of an iconoclast.

.
posted by cavalier at 6:09 PM on September 7, 2011


40 Years of Project Gutenberg: A Mini Guide - (this is pretty cool)
posted by stbalbach at 6:17 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by Doktor Zed at 6:19 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by crunchland at 6:21 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by elmer benson at 6:26 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by dilettante at 6:28 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by Deathalicious at 6:36 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by sonascope at 6:40 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


.
posted by newdaddy at 6:50 PM on September 7, 2011


I have recycled this period from a digitized Shakespeare First Folio:

.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 6:52 PM on September 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


.
posted by fings at 6:55 PM on September 7, 2011


.

Reading my Kindle in memorial
posted by FreelanceBureaucrat at 7:03 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:03 PM on September 7, 2011


He changed the world!
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:17 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by jgaiser at 7:21 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:24 PM on September 7, 2011


I always thought to myself, "I ought to help out with that Project Gutenberg thing." But I never did. I am a lazy, worthless, selfish slug. Michael S. Hart was a Great Man.

.
posted by tommyD at 7:29 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:30 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by MissySedai at 7:32 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by Soliloquy at 7:36 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by Homeskillet Freshy Fresh at 7:43 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by germdisco at 7:48 PM on September 7, 2011


.

His idea was so unorthodox, that even though I know what he did, it still hasn't sunk all the way in. See my comment here, and the (obvious) response.
posted by benito.strauss at 7:49 PM on September 7, 2011


.txt
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 7:55 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


.

Too damned young. Does anyone have any info on the cause of death?
posted by blurker at 8:04 PM on September 7, 2011


He made something that truly matters - both as an idea, and as a reality.

.
posted by Ahab at 8:07 PM on September 7, 2011


Project Gutenberg was the place where I found Siddhartha and was able to read it again. Thank You.

.
posted by lilkeith07 at 8:09 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:19 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by endless_forms at 8:19 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by pts at 8:34 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by elmono at 8:34 PM on September 7, 2011


.

Oh, no -- so sad! I'm working on an MLIS, largely inspired by the wonderful stuff he did. Not only did he pull of a game changer with Project Gutenberg, he was kind and thoughtful enough to exchange a few emails with me.
posted by agog at 8:35 PM on September 7, 2011


.

I feel so indebted to this ethos, I think I shoud say something more, but...
posted by Mngo at 8:36 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by troll at 8:43 PM on September 7, 2011


Copy pasted from Project Gutenberg of course:

"Here I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain."
posted by freebird at 9:01 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


.
posted by grouse at 9:19 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by pmb at 9:20 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by liza at 9:26 PM on September 7, 2011


I think I'm going to go proofread a few pages on DP. Seems fitting.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:27 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by mwhybark at 9:30 PM on September 7, 2011



posted by bz at 9:31 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


.
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:52 PM on September 7, 2011


Real good article about Hart and his legacy, here's a pull from the article:
One of the works available from Project Gutenberg is Hart's own A Brief History of the Internet, published in 1995. That book, in its own idiosyncratic style, laid out some of Hart's ideas about the potential of the interconnectedness and communication made possible by the internet:

For the first time in the entire history of the Earth, we have the ability for EVERYONE to get copies of EVERYTHING as long as it can be digitized and communicated to all of the people on the Earth, via computers [and the devices a person might need to make a PHYSICAL, rather than VIRTUAL copy of whatever it might be. . .

Think about what you have just read for a moment, please, EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE. . .


And on top of the rest of it all, the guy looks cool.

.
posted by dancestoblue at 10:04 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by mumkin at 10:24 PM on September 7, 2011


Think about what you have just read for a moment, please, EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE...

It's takes a good soul to understand the possibilities for the future and dream of this one

.
posted by crayz at 10:30 PM on September 7, 2011


I made my first book using quotes culled from PG source texts. Contributing to DP (it started a year before Wikipedia) made me realize the power of crowdsourcing. Michael Hart was a true pioneer-- visionary, eccentric, and tenacious.

.
posted by gwint at 11:05 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by rewil at 11:10 PM on September 7, 2011


.
posted by XMLicious at 12:05 AM on September 8, 2011


Bummer, we need more weirdos running important internet projects
posted by beerbajay at 12:35 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:49 AM on September 8, 2011


.
posted by metaquarry at 2:03 AM on September 8, 2011


I corresponded with him back when most text (email, anyway) was fixed-width. He wrote in paragraphs that were right-justified without adding spaces, which requires careful word choice. I wrote back to him in the same style, and he congratulated me on the nice layout of my messages.

It's too bad he's gone.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:17 AM on September 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


.
posted by klausness at 2:32 AM on September 8, 2011


A real hero of mine. Ebooks changed my life.
posted by Boggins at 2:55 AM on September 8, 2011


.
Michael Hart was a childhood hero. Go well, Michael.
posted by honest knave at 3:44 AM on September 8, 2011


.
posted by Renoroc at 4:03 AM on September 8, 2011


.

Thank you. I've shared so many Gutenberg links to various friends and family over the years. Just thinking about all the value he put on the internet, available to anyone, for free, has made me tear up. I'm gonna go reread some Shelley and then maybe another few hundred K of Cervantes now.
posted by DigDoug at 4:32 AM on September 8, 2011


.
posted by byanyothername at 5:00 AM on September 8, 2011


> He wrote in paragraphs that were right-justified without adding spaces, which requires careful word choice.

I'd forgotten about that. ISTR he did most of his work from a text-mode monitor (terminal?).
posted by scruss at 5:07 AM on September 8, 2011


Project Gutenberg is an amazing life legacy. It was one of the killer features of the early internet. I remember reading books in the old DOS text editor. Later, when I was in university studying literature, it saved me a bundle on books.

I think that something like PG would've sprung up independent of Hart, but he saw it coming at least a decade before anyone else, and it wouldn't be what it is today, a wonder of the world, if he hadn't gotten going when he did.
posted by Kattullus at 5:39 AM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


He was an inspiration to me and my projects.
posted by fake at 7:19 AM on September 8, 2011


I made a donation in his memory to Project Gutenberg. It's a wonderful gift he left the world. I hope I can continue to make good use of it. Think I'll go read Mrs. Wiggs again, and then The Yellow Wallpaper.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 7:27 AM on September 8, 2011


.
posted by Iridic at 7:32 AM on September 8, 2011


Michael sent me an email called "Graceful Exit" a couple of months ago, which I posted here. I recommend reading it. What a fabulous man.
posted by brewsterkahle at 7:39 AM on September 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


ASCII 46

(There were a lot of good books that I got to read for free from Project Gutenberg back in the mid-90s when I could finally get Internet access at work. I always pored over the weekly What's New list, looking for someting to catch my eye...but then I would read more Mark Twain or P.G Wodehouse.)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:06 AM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Growing up on the Internet, Project Gutenberg was something I always took for granted. It was just there, of course a text archive of free books made sense, and when I first got access to FTP in 1990 or so there were all these books to download. It felt like my birthright; only later did I realize how much work was involved, how some one person started this effort. Thank you, Michael Hart.

Thanks for posting the "Graceful Exit" email, Brewster. He has such a sense of urgency, of how much work he has to do. I hope to keep that with me.
posted by Nelson at 9:15 AM on September 8, 2011


A true visionary. R.I.P.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 9:17 AM on September 8, 2011


The Project Gutenberg donation page is here. Please go there and make a donation. If you care enough to leave a dot in this thread, you should make even just a small contribution.

In case there's any issue reaching that page, I'll mirror the donation info in this comment:

PayPal donation link for Project Gutenberg is here.

Or Send a check or money order (any currency) to:
Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
809 North 1500 West
Salt Lake City, UT 84116
posted by Eideteker at 9:29 AM on September 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:52 AM on September 8, 2011


.
posted by rodgerd at 11:58 AM on September 8, 2011


It was 1996 and internet was still something misterious, expecially in my country. I and some of my (still) closest friends were happily spending nights tapping on keyboards, connected to the internet throught the new hot thing, a SLIP internet connection, at a blazing 16800bps on the then famous Zyxel modems, exploring the newly discovered world. Soon we were FTPing like crazy from electronic shelves full of Phrack,CdC and a number of different e-zines issues.It felt like discovering a contemporary library of Alexandria, except that the scrolls were readily downloadable and the subjects were "forbidden", and at times as eye opening as reading and understanding Animal Farm or 1984.

More or less during these days, I remember first reading about Project Gutenberg. Back then a scanner was still a rather expensive possession, OCRs were ok but not nearly as good and fast as nowadays; we felt we really couldn't have contributed much to the effort with our scarce resources.

Yet I realized Project Gutenberg was not primarily about scanning, but rather it was and still is about sharing; in a couple months, I was running what probably has been the first and only entire Renegade BBS in Italy dedicated exclusively to e-texts, of any kind, no matter what ( I guess I still have a backup copy of Fravia's ;-). Unsurprisingly, most of the calls I received were from outside the country, as the ezines were primarily written in English. Yet, I felt I was extablishing a bridge for those who still didn't feel at home on the net.

Later, as the Internet had become more readily available, I decided to shut down the BBS for lack of callers; yet the idea of the internet as a massive instrument of sharing was still very present in my mind, and so I decided to take part into the translation of the EFF "Guide to Internet" from English to Italian.

Without Michael's inspiration, I wouldn't have these nice memories. Thanks you Michael.
posted by elpapacito at 1:02 PM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


.
posted by anadem at 3:29 PM on September 8, 2011


.

Very sad. I read many a book from the PG site during slow nights working second shift tech support. It's such a great resource. I wanted to volunteer for them, though I ended up transcribing/proofreading not for PG, but for the Online Books Page.

Thank you, Mr. Hart.
posted by medeine at 3:57 PM on September 8, 2011


In addition to donations, there are several other ways to help Project Gutenberg as can be found through the Volunteering page.
posted by zennie at 4:30 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was going to give money to Gutenberg in honor of Mr. Hart, but how solid is the organization? They list only one full time employee, Michael himself. How much is there to Gutenberg beyond him?
posted by Nelson at 4:41 PM on September 8, 2011


I looked up their IRS Form 990s. It looks like the bulk of their expenses go to payroll, with about $36,000 for operating and office supplies, dues, subscriptions, bank charges, fees, licenses, and registration. But most of the payroll expenses are on paper only. Since their income is substantially less than the expenses on the form, they lose money every year, mostly in the form of accrued payroll payable, presumably due to mostly to Hart. At the end of 2009, they owed $735,379 in accrued payroll payable.
posted by grouse at 5:26 PM on September 8, 2011


.
posted by Anitanola at 6:38 PM on September 8, 2011


Thanks, Michael, for your great patience and Guiding Light.
posted by Twang at 10:28 PM on September 8, 2011


.
posted by Senza Volto at 7:49 AM on September 9, 2011


« Older "People cover one part of their bodies with record...  |  There are few boardgames that ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments