ASCII by Jason Scott

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My Smarty-Smart Boss, 23 Years Ago —

One of the most inquisitive and detail-oriented members of Archive Team, godane, asked after a file he’d found on the Internet Archive that had been uploaded by my boss, Brewster Kahle, in 2005. Simply called “untitled”, with a collection of seemingly-randomized metadata, this 4 gigabyte video file had been viewed a handful of times (which might not actually mean it was viewed at all) and had sat, unloved and forgotten, for a decade.

I cleaned up and generated web-browsable versions of the video, and here, embedded, is the resulting video file.

(You can also go right to the page for it and look at it that way.)

The interview is a videotaped session conducted in 1992 with Brewster a few months after the creation of WAIS, Incorporated. At the time of the interview, I am a few blocks away from him, living in my Harvard Square apartment. (Neither of us knew this at the time.) Runtime is roughly 2 hours.

Topics covered include:

  • History of WAIS
  • Definition of Wide Area Information Server (WAIS) Technology
  • Early experiments of WAIS-like services; what went right and wrong
  • Working at Thinking Machines Corporation
  • Devising Search Algorithms
  • Early advancements in search (and the roots of search)
  • Relevance feedback
  • The excitement and personal aspects of search
  • Deep overview of the functionality and system of WAIS
  • The issues and technical considerations of transmitting video via network
  • The model of providing services for free to attract users
  • Effects and use of Internet in Politics and Privacy Issues
  • The Markets that Thinking Machines tried to create and open
  • Brewster’s Goals with WAIS (“The Wise Man on the Hill”)
  • Concerns about proprietary protocols versus open
  • Early interactions with Perot Systems and the Ross Perot Presidential Campaign
  • WAIS, Inc. Corporate and Company Structure
  • WAIS, Inc. Personnel and Positions
  • WAIS, Inc. Philosophy
  • Thoughts on the Electronic Publishing Revolution
  • Effects of Electronic Publishing on Traditional Publishing
  • Thoughts on business models and transfer mechanisms in publishing
  • Thoughts on computers and computing technology in the home and home publishing
  • The role of advertising in electronic publishing
  • Concerns with working with government institutions
  • Considering the issues of Privacy in an electronic age
  • The future of WAIS, Inc. (Growing, Earning, Business Model)

Some numbers mentioned in the interview:

  • A “large” government database that was 15 gigabytes, with estimates of searching this database from 24 hours down the Thinking Machines’ 3 minutes.
  • Dow Jones’ Database is 77gb at this time.
  • Dialog’s Database is “close to a terabyte”.
  • The top-end network connection mentioned is a T3, 42 mbits/sec.
  • 56kbits/sec (ISDN) is an “acceptable” connection for interacting with WAIS.
  • WAIS, Inc. has 3 full-time employees at the time of the interview.

Besides the brains showed in the actual discussions, the whole idea of sitting down and conducting the interview is fantastic. Brewster had started this new company, he’s got all sorts of ideas about what search and ‘online publishing’ (what becomes the web) will do to the world, and what part computers will play. By capturing him and his thoughts at the moment, you get a lot of great historical context and thoughts from someone who ended up making millions from selling this and other companies and then using those millions to start the Internet Archive, which is ‘online publishing’ on a scale that would have been hard to imagine in 1992 (but maybe he did).

Not everyone wants to sit down and hear someone be smart on video for two hours, but considering I work for this guy, it was a really nice experience. If you have the time and inclination, check it out. And hooray for people like godane looking through the Archive’s digital stacks.

Categorised as: Internet Archive

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One Comment

  1. edrandom says:

    This is great, thanks Jason. What’s the copyright status on the video?