04 May 2010
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Saving Western Civilization

Saving the Galaxy

I imagine most of my readers will remember when Hari Seldon appeared before Linge Chen and the Commission for Public Safety and declared that he wanted to spare civilization from the long interregnum after the fall of Trantor's empire.  Seldon's plan was to dispatch a group of encyclopedists to the edge of the galaxy.  There, free from political and military distraction, they would prepare the Encyclopedia Galactica, the sum of all human knowledge.  How this will have worked out we all know, subject, of course to literary revision. 

Scary Stories

I have been reading scary stories recently, and not just on conspiracy links from my friend "Rudolfo."  Cyberwar is coming to our neighborhood, brought to us by North Korea, China, or any other yellow peril, red menace, or terrorist of your choice.  Our computers, power plants, air traffic control, and military command network will all be shut down.  We'll lose our access to Facebook and Twitter, and be unable to trade on eBay.  But the worst tragedy of all will be the inaccessibility of Wikipedia.  Unless you know and care about nothing, or already know everything, Wikipedia is the most indispensible web resource there is.  Shall I expatiate?

Do a random search about anything and a Wiki article will most likely be among the first two or three search results.  The articles seem to be and often are authoritative and comprehensive and the range of subject matter encompasses nearly everything that anyone has found interesting in the past.  They claim 3,278,000 articles just in English at this very moment.  If something happened to Wikipedia's servers or the internet "crashed" they would all be gone.  This would be a tragedy.  It's one I aim to prevent.

How Big is Wikipedia?

Adding the enumerated articles in English and other languages on their home page I come up with a guess of 15 million.  Again guessing, it looks like the typical article is anywhere from one to ten pages in length.  Multiplying guess by guess, there are about 50 million pages of information.  Printed on paper, this would be about 100,000 books.  I wouldn't store them on an upper floor!

"Printed" on the typical external backup hard drive you can buy for $100, it would fill maybe $5 worth of space.  I mention this only for comparison; the last $5 worth of space on a backup drive often remains unused.  In other words, Wikipedia could be distributed on these drives for free.


Yes, free.

But What About Intellectual Property?

See above.  Free. 

Here's How It Could Work

Looking at a semi-random computer-stuff web site to check out external backup drives, I found all these:

I realize that may be a bit difficult to read, so I'll just mention that they range in size from 320GB to 2TB, in price from $59.99 to $169, and are manufactured by Seagate, Western Digital, Hitachi, Iomega, Fantom, and Toshiba.  No shortage of capacity or manufacturers.   Any one of these could hold the entire Wikipedia with room remaining for its intended purpose of backing up your computer.  As you can imagine, the plethora of manufacturers and the low price implies that there's a lot of competition going on.  Wouldn't any one of them be eager for a feature that distinguishes their drive from the others?  Could they charge an extra ten dollars for the world's best encyclopedia?  I, frugal person that I am, would pay that even if I weren't concerned by the threat of the destruction of the internet.  If I were forced to bask in the glow of my PriUPS-powered house with no connection to the outside world, it would be worth a lot more than that to have the knowledge of western civilization at my fingertips.  (The knowledge of the Krell?  Priceless.  But I digress.)

So how do we make this happen?  I've already sent an email to Wikipedia with the suggestion.  They sounded intrigued but noncommittal.  I haven't even begun my campaign with the drive manufacturers.

The Campaign

Well, "campaign" may be overstating it.  What I will do, probably within a day after finishing this blogitem, is send an email to each of the drive manufacturers suggesting that they read it, consider the idea, and make a deal with Wikipedia before their competitors do.  If I hear anything, I'll let you know.  Between now and then, I will emit a horrible cliche, guaranteed to set your teeth on edge, a horrible cliche in itself, but not the one I'm referring to, which is

Win Win Win

There are literally three winners if this idea is implemented:

  • The external drive manufacturers.  They have a new selling point, they can charge somewhat more for their drives, and they can tout their good deed. 

  • You and me.  I've wanted my own "hard copy" of Wikipedia ever since I discovered it.  You do too.

  • Wikipedia itself.  Although their intellectual property is free for the taking, it's not that easy to usurp.  But if they decide to make a deal with the drive manufacturers for a few bucks per copy, they will have a new source of needed income, and the drive manufacturers will be happy to offer it as a donation.  Just as importantly, it will also reduce Wikipedia's expenses.  How?  If searches go first to a local drive and later to the internet only if the web version of the Wiki article is newer, Wikipedia's internet bandwidth usage is decreased.  My (possibly flawed) understanding of their "business" model is that everyone is a volunteer, so bandwidth and their server farm is probably their biggest budget item.  Both will be reduced.

I was going to go into the technical details of how this could work, but I'll save that for later, after my blush of enthusiasm morphs into a morass of practicality. 

"Twice Is Life"
The Peanut Butter Conspiracy





I was very enthusiastic about this rock band, fronted by Marilyn D'Amato, circa 1990.  Of course, they disappeared, as do almost all.  But I still have the shirt, and I think it still fits.

Pull My Daisy T-shirt
Richard Factor

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