TechMan: Internet Archive upgrade a no-brainer

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Sometimes something pops up on the Internet and you say to yourself, "That's a good idea. Why didn't I think of that?"

In TechMan's case it's that he is not smart enough to have thought of it, but let's not go there.

The particular good idea I am speaking of is an announcement by the Internet Archive that it now includes video of news produced since 2009 by 20 different TV channels. That is more than 1,000 news series with more than 350,000 news programs, including, for example, all 24 hours a day of CNN.

The Internet Archive (www.archive.org) is one of the really good ideas on the Internet.

Started in 1996 by Brewster Kahle and inspired by the Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt, the Archive aims to collect, preserve and offer free to the public all the books, music and video produced.

Mr. Brewster, who sold his Internet business in 1999 to Amazon for $250 million, doesn't aim low.

And unlike the ancient library, the Archive can't be burned down. In fact, ironically, if something were to threaten the Archive, its content is backed up at the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt (www.bibalex.org).

The Archive is probably best known for its Wayback Machine that stores old versions of websites back to 1996 (look at post-gazette.com there sometime).

But it also boasts 500,000 books (and digitizes 1,000 more each day), 100,000 concert recordings, and some 700,000 films. And all available to everyone at a low, low price -- free.

For any books that are under copyright, visitors to the Archive can borrow them for two weeks.

The Archive also takes in collections made by others. It approached Grateful Dead fans who had personal recordings of the band's concerts and, with the band's permission after some legal wrangling, now has 9,000 recordings of shows. It also has recordings of some 5,000 other bands. Free to listen.

Among the video collection are many early classics. There is Sergei Eisenstein's silent classic anti-Czarist propaganda film, "Battleship Potemkin," the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film, "Reefer Madness," and the hilariously bad 1956 Ed Wood spacer, "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Free.

Which brings us back to the video news clips.

"The focus is to help the American voter to better be able to examine candidates and issues," Mr. Kahle told The New York Times. "If you want to know exactly what Mitt Romney said about health care in 2009, you'll be able to find it."

And if next spring you get nostalgic for the fall election, you can go back and watch Mitt Romney talk about moochers on the government.

Mr. Kahle admits the clips will make it easier for "The Daily Show" to satirize public figures.

"Let a thousand Jon Stewarts bloom," he told the Times.

In fact, clips from "The Daily Show" will be included in the collection.

"Absolutely," Mr. Kahle said. "We think of it as news."

So among the hours and hours of video available, how do you find what you want?

Because the video has closed captioning data attached, you can search through the videos based on the words said in them. You also need to provide a time frame to look in. New material is added 24 hours after it is broadcast.

The service is called TV News Search & Borrow and allows anyone to pull up 30-second clips to view or link to.

Copyright concerns were dealt with in 1976 when an agreement was worked out in reaction to a challenge to a news assembly project started by Vanderbilt University.

"The Internet Archive does the kind of public interest innovation that reminds you why the Web is so wonderful. This project will enable students, researchers, and journalists to peer into TV news media like a crystal ball," wrote Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation.

In its own way it is as rich as the ancient Library of Alexandria was. And you don't have to worry about anyone burning it down while you are visiting.

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Read TechMan's blog at post-gazette.com/techman. Watch or listen to TechTalk at multimedia.post-gazette.com.


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