ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Digitize the Planet —

I know it’s been announcement city over here for the past week and a half. Here’s the last piece in the puzzle: trying to solve the biggest looming problem for online libraries and archives.

So, people get it: When items are online, they become infinitely more useful. They can transfer instantly, they can be viewed through a wide variety of means, and automatic scripts and robots can have their way with the data, producing all sorts of additional information by analyzing them. Digital is good. Digital is top-shelf fantastic, actually. Digital’s the way to go.


Once people realize that digital is the way to go, they assume institutions like the Internet Archive, with its massive scanning operations and other ingestion abilities, must be able to work like Doc Brown’s Mr. Fusion.



I mean, make no mistake, the Archive can digitize a hell of a lot, and there’s a pile of projects going on right now – they digitize a thousand books every single day, and they’re duping records, videocassettes and other media in at a fantastic rate. But as this happens, so does word that things are available, and then a grateful and well-meaning audience wants to send even more stuff into the machine to be processed.

And as people achieve enlightenment about the awesomeness of the archive, they start assuming that sending in 20-30 crates of “stuff” means that stuff will just slip into the stacks with no issues. And at some point, unless there’s funding attached, that’s just not going to be true. There’s a line at the door, trust me.

Meanwhile, the Archive’s machines and servers can provide instant, accessible homes to digital files almost instantly – if you upload an .ISO, or a PDF or a MP3 file, it knows just what to do. And when you add the metadata/information about that file, we end up with a nice little entry indeed. That is going incredibly well.

So here’s my solution, which I hope is obvious:

Teach everyone to digitize. 

Tell people what tools, practices, and methods they need to turn stuff in their house or place of business into digital files. Give them links to the software that will work on their platform of choice. Provide tips for getting the best capture. Inform them about the importance of descriptions and how that’s done. And for people who are with unusual formats or who don’t feel comfortable with the above, give them links to people and places who are comfortable and can work with them to make it work.

And tell them all the related stuff, too – how to digitize without destroying the originals, how to track down rare stuff or verify it’s not already online, and how to be hero of your particular culture or community in getting it stored away.

In doing this, a whole range of disparate, non-specific pages out there that cover this and that will be added into a central clearinghouse of CC0-licensed information that will spread far and wide.

It’s the next logical step.

So, it is with great pleasure I announce the DIGITIZE THE PLANET WIKI.


Naturally, as it has been up for about 3 hours, it’s very scant. A lot has to be added. But collaborating, and with clear goals in place, I expect to begin assembling a large amount of information in a short period of time. It’s all out there, after all.

The goal is that a person with neat “stuff”, or thousands of such people, can begin going after a whole range of materials and bring them online, for the world to share. Let’s turn this into a flood, a massive wave of items that had no advocate, who have no foundation to grant them immortality. I’d love to see placemats, training VHS tapes, old cassettes, and all the knowledge of the underground and overlands get into the Archive (and other repositories).

It’s the future. Building a library, together.

Let’s see how it goes.

Categorised as: computer history

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  1. Darkstar says:

    I would like to help, but there’s no info on how to sign up…?
    Would it make sense to share the accounts with the ArchiveTeam and/or FileFormats Wikis?

  2. AndreasK says:

    Are you aware of the book scanning community at ?