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iBiblio Takes MetaLab Concept To A New Level 41

The iBiblio.org domain name is so new that Google still doesn't show it, but a search for the site's previous name, MetaLab.unc.edu, turns up over 600,000 responses. To Linux users, it is the home of the Linux Documentation Project and the world's largest repository of downloadable Linux and Open Source software, but that is not what it started out to be and it is still not iBiblio's primary purpose, although Linux and Open Source and the community concepts behind them are integral to iBiblio in many ways.

It says on the iBiblio FAQ page that iBiblio "stands above other digital libraries" by maintaining "a close relation to the open source models for development and management of collections." The FAQ page also says, "We're all about freedom, man! Free Tibet, free Burma, Free Love, you get the picture. We offer a free platform for the exchange of free thought. We host tons of cultural sites like the DocSouth Project, Zen@iBiblio, and North Carolina Raves (all of which can be seen from our collections index). We are also one of the first servers to mirror the original Linux kernel, so you can tell we're big on free software, too."

Paul Jones, listed on the who we are page as "fearless leader," has been the project's director since it began in 1992. He is a computer scientist, a poet, and a professor of both journalism and library science. He has eclectic tastes in music, a high forehead, hair that ripples over his shoulders, and speaks in an accent you could call Mayberry PhD; imagine a good ol' boy-talking leftover hippie who co-wrote The Web Server Book (which later morphed into The Unix Web Server Book, Second Edition, and you have Paul pegged -- and some insight into the nature of the iBiblio collection, which could be loosely defined as 'information and amusements Paul likes or needs or thinks a whole lot of other people might like or need.'

The iBiblio collection policy is vague; "eclectic" is the polite word. There is a fair amount of southern U.S. culture (the Mayberry part) and plenty of scholarly studies (the PhD part), and lots of everything else. The Web's longest-running comic (since 1993), Dr. Fun, is hosted by iBiblio. So is the Virtual Shtetl, an online repository for Yiddish language and culture.

The current iBiblio name was chosen, in large part, because it was available. Paul says, "Naming anything on the Internet these days is a combination of what's available and what you're trying to say." The old SunSite name had to go when the site's relationship with original sponsor Sun Microsytems (amicably) dissolved several years ago. Then, Paul says, people both in the free software community and the rest of the world seemed to associate the MetaLab name almost entirely with the software aspect of the site (which only makes up about half of it), and when the latest sponsor, red hat center, donated $4 million to the project, a name change was in order -- but not to one that had either redness or hatness in it.

"Bob Young felt like since this was the first and biggest [charitable] project he had done," Paul says, and since they were going to have many changes in the site, "... he also wanted to try to do a little bit different name. He noticed when he kept certain names, say like red hat center and Red Hat, Incorporated, that people got them confused." So instead of a Red Hat-boosting name, it became iBiblio, a made-up word that alludes well to librararyness -- and is easy to remember once you get your tongue around it correctly, pronoucing the first "i" long so that you are saying, "eye - bib - lee - oh."

Right now the amount of material iBiblio can hold is limited only by server capacity. "We have plenty of bandwidth," Paul says. And now, new hardware is going online steadily, paid for in large part by the Red Hat center grant. It all runs Linux for reasons that go beyond the current sponsorship. Indeed, the MetaLab/SunSite relationship with Linux started before Red Hat was formed, and came about almost entirely by accident.

"Originally," Paul says, "the first U.S. [Linux] mirror site was for a brief time a place called banjo, at concert dot net, and that's right up the road from us. I forget how many Megabytes the kernel was then, perhaps 30 -- now that doesn't seem like anything, but at the time it seemed like quite a bit -- and they were getting a little bit of traffic, several hundred file transfers a day. It was enough to make them nervous. They were a small company, just getting going.

"Jonathan Magid, who in fact still works with me, was an undergrad who was interested in operating systems, and he came to me and said, 'You know, there are these guys that are cooperatively building an operating system, and you can have it.' I said, 'Oh yeah? When can I run it?' He said, 'Well, you can only run the kernel, the rest'll be coming soon.' At first I said, 'We don't really need another operating system.' I already had a Mac, we had Suns, and we had PCs, so what did we need another operating system for? He [Jonathan] said, 'This one, you can actually work on yourself if you want to,' and I thought this was kind of nice, we'll try that out, and we sort of rescued it from banjo before they got in trouble [over the traffic], and we've never stopped [hosting Linux] since."

Paul has no accurate count of the number of Linux and free software files currently hosted at iBiblio.org. He says, "I know the separate distros, each one is an entire tree of its own, we carry about thirty-some distros. We have between four and six thousand community-contributed files. Some are active and some are now becoming historic, but the librarian part of me doesn't want to throw anything away."

In a little side note, Paul adds, "After Jonathan got overwhelmed as the Linux portion took off, I said, 'We need to find somebody who really cares about this who will come in and help us out.' Jonathan suggested a friend, Eric Troan, who he said would work for 'a couple of t-shirts.'"

Troan stuck around for a while, but eventually got hired by then-new Red Hat (Paul says Troan was Red Hat employee number four), and another Eric, surname Raymond, got involved and continued his participation until, Paul says, he more-or-less accidentally found himself flying yon and hither speechifying and writing as the prime spokesman for the entire open source movement.

Paul cannot remember exactly how long Raymond worked on MetaLab; "You'd have to ask Raymond," he says. "About three years, I think, but I'm not positive."

This lack of certainty, this semi-anarchy, this sense of people coming and going, each bringing something to the whole, shows why iBiblio is inextricably linked to the free software and Open Source movements in ways that extend beyond software into both management style and general philosophy. Some volunteers have made noticeable, even site-shaking contribitions. Paul credits Eric Raymond, for instance, with bringing Trove, an open-source distributed archiving system for use at large software archive sites, with him.

But other equally-valuable contributions may be less visible than Trove, and many iBiblio contributors may be unknown within the Linux, open source, and free software communities, where the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry [IUPAC] or the Vietnam Multimedia Archives are not daily discussion topics.

The point to all this is that open source software and concepts have uses beyond the confines of the programming community, and that iBiblio.org, with new money from a foundation that owes its funding to open source software, is an endless experiment in open source and library science (which might also be called "library art" in the iBiblio context), and how a combination of the two can evolve as a public resource if given money, time, and a little (but not too much) guidance.

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iBiblio Takes MetaLab Concept to a New Level

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  • Since they've got all that extra space and bandwidth, why not automatically incorporate some kind of weblog format into the site structure. That way, every document in the vast repository can become the starting point for discussion and commentary.

    Many ancient/medieval texts were printed with the original text on the inside of a page, with commentary from various generations running around the side of the page. This would be the modern equivalent...
  • Given the long-term contribution of the people involved with sunsite and metalab, I predict ibiblio.org will be contributing to peoples' lives both personally and professionally long after Windows ME is gone and forgotten. This is not a Microsoft bash, incidentally - even if Windows ME is a wonderful OS, it will be outgrown and replaced, and irrelevant while ibiblio will continue as a major resource. Windows ME may be news indeed, but this story about ibiblio isn't filler.
  • http://www.ibiblio.org/pub/Linux/ [ibiblio.org] is the new link to the Metalab archive.
  • Sounds like a job for slashcode [slashcode.com], where each file addition to the achive can be a "story" with a short abstract of the addition.
  • Absolutely, (I didn't pay you to post that message, did I?)! We do want to add discussions and we do want something like /. and/or advogato. We're just getting started on that portion of the project so suggestions are certainly welcome.

    errr. guess i should modify my /. profile to say:
    http://ibiblio.org/pjones/
  • by anonymous cowerd ( 73221 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @08:40AM (#773434) Homepage

    Just wondering, why would you change a perfectly good, nice-sounding, intrinsically meaningful and well-known name like "metalab" to "iBiblio," which you can't confidently pronounce nor spell, which doesn't scan either, and on top of everything else has one of those annoying embedded caps?

    See, a lot of people already know about the justly famous "metalab," they know its history and reputation. But if you go up to those same people and say, "Hey, what about that iBiblio?" they're apt to think it's yet another new e-business scam, or another on-line bookstore, or one of those loathsome schemes to sell crippled electronic documents with some kind of cryptographic built-in expiration or copyright protection. After having spent a decade making "metalab" into one of the most respected site names on the web, why would they toss away their good name for a new one?

    I hope none of the metalab, er I mean "iBiblio" staff, will be offended by this only mildly critical observation. I've downloaded plenty of stuff from their site and I really appreciate their efforts, and wish them the best of luck in the future, embedded cap and all.

    Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

  • by pjones ( 10800 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @08:47AM (#773435) Homepage
    No offense, but I spent weeks answering this kind of message when we moved from sunsite to metalab. Personally, I'm tired of typing meatbal instead of metalab, which being dyslexic I've done more times that can be counted ;->

    But seriously, both names will work -- in fact sunsite.unc.edu still works, but don't tell sun -- for a very very long time. Metalab, as a name, only existed since 1997 -- not a decade altho it seems like a decade sometimes.

  • I forget how many Megabytes the kernel was then, perhaps 30 -- now that doesn't seem like anything, but at the time it seemed like quite a bit

    The current linux-2.4.0-test8.tar.gz is 22502369 bytes compressed ... granted it is more than 30 megs uncompressed, but surely the kernel wasn't that big then. Perhaps he is referring to the whole mirror, not just the kernel... ?
  • you are right! i meant the entire Linux distribution including the very early kernel in 1992
  • by Signal 11 ( 7608 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @09:05AM (#773438)
    Anyone else noticing the rapid commercialization of the linux community?

    Main linux website - slashdot, aquired by andover.net. IPO soon. Main linux documentation repository - $4 million in "grant" money, name change. Main linux hardware VAR - VA Linux, went IPO. Main linux distribution - Redhat, went IPO. Main linux developers - aquired by Transmeta or Redhat.

    And all the while, nobody is noticing the secondary effects - on slashdot all of the former "Best of the best" linux users have shuffled off onto private listservs, leaving only the trolls. Linux documentation - between the LinDoc and SomethingElseDoc nobody seems to have the willpower to write documentation because it might "Be in the wrong format". So much for the open source spirit of "anyone can contribute". Rather like forcing anyone submitting a resume to make it in Word, not that anyone notices the parallels. VA Linux, post-aquisition - prices went up, and while the options broadened, I don't recommend them to non-businesses b/c the costs are too high. Didn't use to be that way. RedHat, great distribution, but it's been having some growing pains since becoming a real company. Just ask the Enlightenment crew, or Gnome for that matter. Then we have Linus. On the kernel dev list he used to be very active in talking to newcomers and old-hat developers alike. Now with all the publicity, you're lucky to get a response, and he only makes brief excursions into the list. Many other developers have moved towards the "isolation factor" - too busy to answer e-mails?

    There's a huge shift going on in the linux community and everyone's too busy shouting "$! $!" to notice. In a year or two... nobody will be able to recognize this community anymore. The Bruce Perens and the Richard Stallmans will have been chastized out of the community - even now they're being quietly but forcefully nudged away from the limelight. What was once the central argument for linux is now barely even a footnote - freedom.

    Viva FreeBSD, I guess.

    --

  • I still call it sunsite, because of the hardware sun donated to the project.
  • by pjones ( 10800 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @09:14AM (#773440) Homepage
    Remember when sunsite.unc.edu started in 1992, we were funded by Sun for many happy years. Now someone close to open source community contributes (Bob Young and Marc Ewing) and you get all excited! This is a good thing -- not a sell-out or purchase.

  • this is the begining of the great enlightenment!
  • Remember when sunsite.unc.edu started in 1992, we were funded by Sun for many happy years. Now someone close to open source community contributes (Bob Young and Marc Ewing) and you get all excited! This is a good thing -- not a sell-out or purchase.

    Well, fine then.. you guys have been going downhill independently of the funding then. Switching between document formats, requiring that things be filed only one way (rather than just getting the documentation out there!!), redesigning the website and then leaving key features out (like the ability to access the HOWTOs directly).. and only after a hundred plus people complained was that fixed.

    You guys are dedicating your efforts to the one thing we don't need anything more of - fancy, standardized websites. If I wanted that, I'd go to linux.com. No, I need thorough, recent, documentation on linux. Microsoft products suck, but atleast they have Technet and the knowledgebase. What does linux have? A bunch of gurus who say they know everything but can't explain it to anyone except themselves. Load of good that does anyone!

    My advice - take that 4 million and get people writing documentation. Hire tech writers, some staff to do the research, and get us some decent docs! That's what you're known for.. or were...

    --

  • Comments in the sides of textbooks can also prove to be very informative. A well-known example is Fermat's Last Theorem, which was written in the margin of his copy of a mathematics text on the pythagorean theorem. Who knows what could come of a more widely accessable version of this?

    Given Slashdot's history, probably posts about Natalie Portman and hot grits, but we can hope...


    -RickHunter
  • Yeah, and ask your average person on the street in 1977 if theyd ever heard of a company called microsoft. I doubt youd have many takers, they should pick a better name, like packard bell! you think its hewlett packard or maybe bell atlantic, but its not!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Eric, surname Raymond

    so that's what the S stands for.


    --
    Protecting my precious Shoeboy from his anonymous karma posting.
  • It is nice that they have some recordings in both real audio and mp3, but they messed up the links. Whenever you see a pair of links titled "streaming mp3 / realaudio" there are in fact two copies of the realaudio link. Replacing ".ram" or ".rm" with ".mp3" in the link will get you the mp3, though.

    I sent them email about this last week. It seemed to go in a black hole, though. Oh well.

  • Microsoft should change their name to something more catchy... like "Inprise" or "Rebel."

    How old was Sunsite when they changed the name?

  • by pjones ( 10800 ) on Sunday September 17, 2000 @09:56AM (#773448) Homepage
    yes, we support the Linux Documentation Project and have since the beginning and we will continue to as long as the LDPers are happy with us.

    BUT we are not the LDP and we don't make the LDP's rules or decide about their formats. That's entirely up to the LDP.

    We give each contributor as close to total freedom as we can manage.

  • sunsite was about 5 years old when we changed to metalab
  • From the story above (emphasis added):

    Then, Paul says,
    people both in the free software community and the rest of the world seemed to associate the MetaLab name almost entirely with the software aspect of the site (which only makes up about half of it), and when the latest sponsor, red hat center, donated $4 million to the project, a name change was in order -- but not to one that had either redness or hatness in it.

    -jon

  • I would have replied privately via e-mail, but your address isn't in your profile. Please send to me and let me know about the broken links and we'll fix them ASAP. We were a bit distracted last week maybe.

  • You haven't read iBilio's or Metalab's charter. Its not their responsiblity to write Linux documentation. Since when does a library have a responsibility to write its contents?
  • Its not their responsiblity to write Linux documentation. Since when does a library have a responsibility to write its contents?

    Maybe it's just because I don't see a need for a library like this. I DO see a need (a big huge gaping hole of a need) to get quality linux documentation out the door. This was trumpeted as being good for the OSS movement, but I'm rather wondering if maybe it would have been better spent elsewhere. Call me selfish, but I'd rather have one good linux documentation site than a hundred online libraries all with mediocre linux documentation.

    --

  • You truly are an idiot. I've been reading your comments with my jaw dropped to the table, how can anyone be so narrow sited?

    You seem to think that iBiblio/metalabs is just the site that hosts the LDP. They do much more than this, they host tons of software much of it open source and linux related. They do a great service for our community, and free of cost I might add.

    If you've got a complaint about the LDP take it up with the LDP, or better yet start your own project. People like you really hurt our community, you go around taking and taking, then instead of giving back you just complain.
  • I thought the LDP, KDE, Gnome and FreeBSD projects all used some derivative of the DocBook DTD with SGML. What's the issue with file formats?
  • Fermat's side script amounted to something like "I have discovered a truly remarkable proof of this theory, but this space is not large enough to accomidate it." Hardly a positive for the addition of side comments. He sent generations of mathematicians on a wild goose chase for 400 years before someone (Andrew Wiles) finally figured it out. Even then, the mathematics used weren't even thought of at the time of Fermat, so if he did actually have a proof, it still isn't known.

    Fermat's little scribble on the margin of his book was far from informative. Useful, being that it inspired a lot of work in mathematics to be done, but not exactly informative.
  • You truly are an idiot. I've been reading your comments with my jaw dropped to the table, how can anyone be so narrow sited?

    I'm not narrow-minded, I'm selfish, there's a difference and if you had read my posts, you'd have noticed. Maybe you were distracted?

    You seem to think that iBiblio/metalabs is just the site that hosts the LDP.

    That's all that matters to me, like I said, I'm a selfish bastard. But if you had read my post you'd have noticed this isn't about ibiblio. Of course, you didn't pause to notice that and instead went on flaming... you probably missed the 4 other examples and how this is representative of a continuing trend in the linux community. One that I don't like. It's called an "opinion", and like an asshole everybody has one.

    If you've got a complaint about the LDP take it up with the LDP, or better yet start your own project.

    I have complained to them. Infact, a slashdot article resulted from this and they did (after much ado) fix one of the things I complained about.

    People like you really hurt our community, you go around taking and taking, then instead of giving back you just complain.

    A critic provides a valuable service whether you realize it or not. People who were critical of Einstein's theories provided a useful public service as when the dust settled we had general relativity. By playing the devil's advocate, or being critical of someone's work, you are providing a service, that is, if it isn't about ego or an i'm-better-than-you-are attitude which many non-scientists get confused over.

    The real pity is that you don't know how many people come to me to troubleshoot their linux systems, or how much documentation I have written behind the scenes, or how many managers I've convinced to run linux (and, I might add, saved them thousands). You have the analytical skills of a lobotomized flatworm. You are incapable of seeing past your own nose to notice that people can contribute without writing the next Apache or another HOWTO. The most valuable resource one can provide is themselves and I've done that. What have YOU done, Travis?

    --

  • A critic provides a valuable service whether you realize it or not.

    Critics *can* provide valuable services. They can also be annoying nuisances. It all depends on what they are criticizing and how.

    Criticizing the LDP is probably a valuable service. Saying that *iBiblio* sucks when you are upset with the LDP is annoying. This is magnified when you consider the role that reputation plays in the open-source community; you are trashing one person's reputation *because you don't like something another person is doing*.

    iBiblio provides an *incredibly* valuable service, and have for as long as I can remember --- sunsite was one of the best ftp sites around when i first got on the net. For you to bitch at them about something that *someone else* is doing is rude at best.
  • ALRIGHT! I get the idea.. I stuck my foot in my mouth, this isn't the first time.. I'm sorry.

    --

  • Can you show us the link to the webpage you refer to, please? The ibiblio FAQ I find on their site [ibiblio.org] contains neither the word "Christian" nor the word "morals".
  • Okay, I'm sorry. As many people have pointed out by now, LDP != ibiblio. Being that that is all *I* use it for, I assumed that was the only relation it had to linux. That wasn't what I was trying to get at, however - it's that alot of money is pouring into this community and triggering rapid changes - maybe not all for the better. I stepped on ibiblio while pointing this out, and I'm sorry. My frustrations are directed towards the LDP people, not them.

    --

  • many staff members of ibiblio.org current and past have been Jews. Many have been or are Christians. Some have been Wiccan, Hindu, atheist and agnostics.

    Nowhere on ibiblil.org pages do I find the remarks that you are posting.

    If you can back up your claims with a link, I'll be glad to look into it.

  • That's all that matters to me, like I said, I'm a selfish bastard. But if you had read my post you'd have noticed this isn't about ibiblio. Of course, you didn't pause to notice that and instead went on flaming... you probably missed the 4 other examples and how this is representative of a continuing trend in the linux community. One that I don't like. It's called an "opinion", and like an asshole everybody has one

    I don't recall a note on the ldp-discuss list mentioning that $4mil is being donated to the LDP. Nor do I see anything of the sort regarding metalab/ibiblio. So I'm not sure how you equate a donation to ibiblio as a donation to the LDP.

    When you check up on your history, imetasite has been one of the largest and longest-running source for Linux software. The other being tsx-11.mit.edu (is that still up).

    On a side note, if you're so concerned about the quality of documentation for Linux, I suggest you write a HOWTO or even a guide and contribute instead of complaining. The tools for writing DocBook articles and books has increased, and the amount of documentation about writing documentation has increased as well. I suggest you start with the LDP Author Guide [linuxdoc.org] (formerly the HOWTO-HOWTO).
  • by JimRay ( 6620 )
    wtf indeed. wtf are you talking about? nowhere on the ibiblio maintained site (meaning pages that aren't simply hosted by but maintained by the ibib staff) is there any reference to christian culture and similar moral truths. help us find these and we'll take a look. BTW--several sunsite/metalab/ibiblio employees are Jewish, Hindu, Chrisitan, Zen Buddhist or just existing. In fact, it's one of the MOST tolerant places I've ever worked!
  • In the current social climate, no. We realize what could happen if the relationship is found out about and a psychologist tries to "fix" the child.
  • Maybe he was just playing around with people's minds and didn't actually have the proof. :)
  • Anyone but me notice that the FAQ [ibiblio.org] page bears the title:

    'The Official MetaLab FAQ'

    :)

  • This is nothing compared to the hue and cry when I had to change SunSITE's ip address for the first time in years back in, what, 1995, 1996? You'd be astonished at the number of linux hackers who had hard-coded SunSITE's ip address into /etc/hosts just so they wouldn't have to query a name server before getting their Linux goodies, and were _really pissed off_ when they couldn't get to us anymore.
  • Well, yes, but it still produced a lot of development and interesting ideas in mathematics. It isn't as useful as it could've been, but as Fermat said, the margin wasn't big enough. One of the first uses of time travel (I'd hope) would be getting him to tell us WTF he was talking about. ^_^


    -RickHunter

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