We chatted with Internet Archive co-founder Brewster Kahle today for a story we wrote about the Internet and the Asian tsunami. As it happened, we ended up talking a lot more about the Archive — in particular, the San Francisco organization’s growing collection of video files. We knew that the Archive was collecting video files from the public. What we hadn’t fully realized is that virtually anyone can submit a video to the library, and the chances are pretty good they’ll archive it. “Our offer is for anyone with material that broadly belongs in a library and they’re willing to share,” Kahle said.
In essence, the IA has become a free video hosting service of sorts, no small matter considering the bandwidth and storage costs associated with video.
This hit home for us when we saw this week that filmmaker Michael Verdi was going to host one of his daughter’s videoblog files on the Internet Archive because it was chewing up so much of his own bandwidth.
One might question whether the musings of an 11-year-old girl, however smart or charming, should be permanently stored in the Internet Archive. On first blush, that seems like a pretty low bar for entry into what could be an important historical collection of digital files.
But Kahle doesn’t see it that way at all.
What seems irrelevant now may be very important to someone else years from now. Verdi’s daughter’s video may not appear to have much cultural or historical significance now. But years later, her descendants may want to research her life, and how great would it be to have access to this video, Kahle says. (Kahle and the Archive are also working with a group called Ourmedia that hopes to build a repository of grassroots media, including photo albums, video diaries, home-brew political ads and student films.)
“We’re starting to move to the point of having personalized information libraries,” he said. “Whether that means filling the world with Tiffany’s every rambling, I don’t know. But selection is often more expensive than storing the information. Making a decision about whether to select something is often more expensive than just grabbing it.”
The IA is taking in about 100 videos a day, Kahle said. Each one is screened by an IA employee before it’s archived and made available on the Web. If the coming years see an explosion in videoblogging and grassroots media, as expected, that could become an unwieldy task. But Kahle seems unconcerned, speaking as if he and his 20 employees are duty-bound as librarians to preserve history.
“If you take the rules that libraries play by, we do the same thing. We put content on the shelves and we invite the public to look at. That’s what’s libraries do. But we’re a digital one.”