For E-book Pioneer, It All Started with Just Six Downloads

As you scroll through part of another literary masterpiece this weekend on your Kindle, iPad or Nook, take a moment to say thank you to the late Michael Stern Hart. His modest efforts as a 1971 freshman at the University of Illinois turned out to be the prologue for the now unstoppable e-book narrative.

Per today’s LA Times obituary by Elaine Woo, Hart was inspired to take a reproduction of the Declaration of Independence that he had been given in a grocery store and post it into the ARPANET grid. At the time, there were about 100 users on the network at places like UCLA, Harvard and the U.S. Defense Department:

Hart keyed the historic text into the computer system… It was downloaded by six members of this pre-Internet network, which was encouragement enough for Hart to continue.

Today, electronic publishers and self-publishers would kill for a six percent download rate. From his Declaration debut, Hart moved on to all sorts of other documents while separately founding the online library known as Project Gutenberg.

[Photo courtesy PGLAF.org]


@hollywoodspin rhorgan@gmail.com Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.
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