ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Ted Nelson’s Junk Mail (and the Archive Corps Pilot) —

I’ve been very lucky over the past few months to dedicate a few days here and there to helping legend Ted Nelson sort through his archives. We’ve known each other for a bunch of years now, but it’s always a privilege to get a chance to hang with Ted and especially to help him with auditing and maintaining his collection of papers, notes, binders, and items. It also helps that it’s in pretty fantastic shape to begin with.

Along with sorting comes some discarding – mostly old magazines and books; they’re being donated wherever it makes sense to. Along with these items were junk mail that Ted got over the decades.

About that junk mail….

After glancing through it, I requested to keep it and take it home. There was a lot of it, and even going through it with a cursory view showed me it was priceless.

There’s two kinds of people in the world – those who look at ephemera and consider it trash, and those who consider it gold.

I’m in the gold camp.

I’d already been doing something like this for years, myself – when I was a teenager, I circled so many reader service cards and pulled in piles and piles of flyers and mailings from companies so fleeting or so weird, and I kept them. These became digitize.textfiles.com and later the reader service collection, which encapsulates digitize.textfiles.com completely. There’s well over a thousand pages in that collection, which I’ve scanned myself.

Ted, basically, did what I was doing, but with more breadth, more variety, and with a few decades more time.

And because he was always keeping an eye out on many possibilities for future fields of study, he kept his mind (and mailbox) open to a lot of industries. Manufacturing, engineering, film-making, printing, and of course “computers” as expressed in a thousand different ways. The mail dates from the 1960s through to the mid 2000s, and it’s friggin’ beautiful.

Here’s where it gets interesting, and where you come in.

There’s now a collection of scanned mail from this collection up at the Internet Archive. It’s called Ted Nelson’s Junk Mail and you can see the hundreds of scanned pages that will soon become thousands and maybe tens of thousands of scanned pages.

They’re separated by mailing, and over time the metadata and the contents will get better, increase in size, and hopefully provide decades of enjoyment for people.

The project is being coordinated by Kevin Savetz, who has hired a temp worker to scan in the pages across each weekday, going through the boxes and doing the “easy” stuff (8.5×11 sheets) which, trust me, is definitely worth going through first. As they’re scanned, they’re uploaded, and (for now) I am running scripts to add them as items to the Junk Mail collection.

The cost of doing this is roughly $80 a day, during which hundreds of pages can be scanned. We’re refining the process as we go, and expect it to get even more productive over time.

So, here’s where Archive Corps comes in; this is a pilot program for the idea behind the new idea of Archive Corps, which is providing a funnel for all the amazing stuff out there to get scanned. If you want to see more stuff come from the operation that Kevin is running, he has a paypal address up at k@savetz.com – the more you donate the more days we are able to have the temp come in to scan.

I’m very excited to watch this collection grow, and see the massive variety of history that it will reveal. A huge thank-you to Ted Nelson for letting me take these items, and a thank-you to Kevin Savetz for coordinating.

Let’s enjoy some history!


Categorised as: Archive Corps | Internet Archive


One Comment

  1. J. Peterson says:

    Curious: Were there any overlaps between Ted’s junk mail collection and yours?

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