When Brewster hired me in 2011, he had the foresight to recognize I’d spread in many directions once I was under the auspiciousness of the Internet Archive, but he definitely had one overarching goal with my employment. Paraphrasing, it was this: the Archive had done very well with books, music, visual items, and of course websites – but it was sorely lacking in the realm of software. My provided goal was do for software what archive.org has been doing for all these other mediums.
In short summary, I have done that.
Thanks to the additions of the Shareware CD Archive, the TOSEC archive, the FTP site boneyard, and the Disk Drives collection, and the encouraging of the hosting of the Classic PC Games library along with the (in-process) integration of Fileplanet…. The Internet Archive is the largest collection of historical software online in the world. Find me someone bigger.
Through these terabytes (!) of software, the whole of the software landscape of the last 50 years is settling in. But since software is just that, programs and materials, it’s best to have some documentation and writing regarding it as well.
I’m well along on that too: the Computer Magazines collection is well over 10,000 individual issues of computer magazines and journals. If they’re not magazines, they might be newsletters and there’s a Computer Newsletters collection for that, with thousands of THOSE issues as well. Or books! Maybe you’re looking for books and in the Folkscanomy project, I’ve set aside a section just of computer books. Obviously there might be some hardware issues or information you would need, so be aware the Folkscanomy collection has an electronics section that veers here and there into the computer and programming realms as well.
No, no, SIT DOWN. I’m not done. The mirroring of the amazing Bitsavers Project means that over 25,000 documents that group have been digitizing for almost 20 years are right online, readable and downloadable at a whim. I’ve been separating them into company type, but I currently do that by hand so it’s uneven. Either way, an automatic process now does the ingestion, meaning anywhere from 10-100 new documents enter that library a week.
Regular ephemera? I’ve been doing a little of that on the side and working with people. It’s called the Reader Service collection. Gems aplenty there, I can promise you.
So, between all this material, and much more is coming in, the Internet Archive gives you unrestricted access to the largest collection of computer history and software in the world, bar none. Bar none.
So what’s the problem?
Well, our metadata is shit, I can tell you that. We’re not good at having all the careful twee metadata entry that most archives and libraries demand. If you look at, say, the Apple I manual we have online, it’s kind of just that – an Apple I manual. Not much detail, page listing, context. It’s just there. Preserved, easily accessed, easily read – but not described all that much. That’s a thing. People in more formal disciplines might call that a showstopper. I call it a minor issue for the moment, but one worth improving.
The other weirdness is that a lot of material is inside other archives that have to be browsed using the Archive.org’s file browser. So here’s some examples: The insides of a DOOM Level CD-ROM. A view of the entire software output for the Colecovision. The racy insides of the Devil’s Doorknob BBS. There they are, but you have to do a little digging.
Yes, this is a crate digger’s paradise. The cries of “Look what they had, they didn’t even know they had it” should echo through these stacks. The superior feeling of being the first to find a rare demo of a game that nobody ever ultimately released. The citation you note deep in an advertisement in a computer magazine for a promised hardware family that never came to fruition, or did with radically scaled-back qualities. It’s in there.
But these are problems of effort, not of possibility. That’s all they are.
More importantly, here’s the question I now ask the culture, the world, the people who might read this or get pointed to it.
Are you ready for this? Are you in?
What I mean, is that for well over 20 years now, I’ve been in the world and the culture of the software collector, the curator, the theorist, the fan. That is my life, to have been part of this group. Some of them have gone into some very professional circles with this hope in their heart to bring something like this around, but an awful lot of life and fear and reality has gotten in the way. A lot of people are well on their way towards these goals, to have this much online, this much available, this much right there and allowing us to do the Next Steps.
Well, we’re here. Now what.
There is now a fully-accessible, worldwide-reachable, massive-bandwidth and completely unrestricted collection of computer history up right now, in these collections I’ve just mentioned. Some are mirrors of incredible projects that have been around long before this moment, and let me not diminish their continued work. But some of these efforts needed that little extra bit of access, that ease of reading and downloading, and now that is here. The URLs on archive.org are designed to be permanent. This link to a little running cat (NEKO, which has been around since Macintosh days) will, barring incredible disaster, be around for a very long and dependable time. So will this collection of 30 gigabytes of Amiga software. And notably, over 360 people have downloaded that 30 gigabyte collection, absconding like Bilbo Baggins out of the mountain. Fine! Enjoy! Have a great time! But the point is, if someone asks for where it came from, they can point right here, and here it is. In a library. Online, like it belongs.
So where are you?
Where are the students of computer history who needed primary source material, downloadable images and PDF files of every description from which to make their thesis statements and reports?
Where are the bloggers and essayists who are putting together in-depth, critical, long-reaching and ranging assessments of historical events to provide context to today?
Where are the people dedicated to busting some of these lame-ass software patents that have clogged and destroyed so much innovation, all in the name of some corporate worship that says that someone patenting breathing oxygen is helping the world improve?
When do I get to see the brilliance of works like this that shed amazing new light into these old things?
This is it, folks. This is the ideal world I’ve heard whispered about, referenced, and planned for a very long time. It’s here. I know you might have expected it to land with an earth-shattering boom but it was a slow and steady flowering on the Internet Archive’s servers. The Archive of Historical Computer Software is here, and it is very, very large.
Blow me away.
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