Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Web of Things

The Web of Things mean different things to different people. Some argue that the Web of Things will be the crucial ingredient for the realization of Web 3.0. Dominique Guinard is at the forefront of this cutting edge technology, and is researching on the very idea of connecting people and objects on the web. Keep an eye out for him. You might hear about him one of these days.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What's In Store for Web x.0?

The definition of Web 3.0 is as elusive as it gets. However, it's getting much clearer than it was one year ago. Many of the technologies in the Web 2.0 world are paving the way for the next version of the Web. The elements of augmented reality and locative media that the iPhone has shown us in its brief history is indication that the web extends beyond the digital world.

Some web experts believe that combining the digital and physical worlds requires the help of hardware devices that can layer on top of the reality the information retrieved from the cloud to a user’s accounts on various sites. Whereas the social web exists in a predominantly digital atmosphere, Web 3.0 extends to a physical realm where Internet-connected “social devices” faced with a local problem can “talk” with other artifacts that can provide their experience about that situation, or likewise offer information that may help to come up with a solution to the problem.

What does this all mean? More to come in upcoming postings.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Introducing The Social Network

"You don't get to a 500 million friends without making a few enemies."
With those epic words, the tone has been set for this what must be the most enigmatic movie of the summer. What does the world really think of Mark Zuckerberg? Adapted from Ben Mezrich's The Accidental Billionaires, The Social Network adds an element of mystique to the rise of Facebook. It's been six years since the release of Facebook, so what have we learned about it? What are your thoughts about Facebook? Here are mine:

1. Socializing Has Changed - "Friending" has evolved from merely adding friends and strangers. It's changed the way we make communicate, the way we talk, email, instant message, even our phones. How do you find someone? You don't - you Facebook them.

2. Business Is About 'Stickiness' - Entire businesses have been built on Facebook. Think of the social graph, and how it's leveraged the idea of 6 degrees of separation into a new entrepreneurial paradigm. Applications like Faceconnector integrates CRM and the data produced by Facebook into entirely new social tools for business. In less than 5 years, Facebook has indirectly helped many businesses earn a lot of money; if that isn't making friends, what is?

3. Software Is Lighter - Cloud computing and software-as-a-service have forever altered computing. While the cloud has provided over-the-Internet virtual resources eliminating many services, SaaS has similarly afforded inexpensive way for businesses to use software as needed rather than license devices with applications. Why settle for a hard drive when you can upload to Xdrive? How about Gmail on the go? Facebook is not only a social network, it's an entertainment and social service.

4. Privacy Has Changed - Things have never been quite the same after Facebook. Whereas before, one had to create a homepage to get noticed, Facebook has made everyone a celebrity. This commodification of status has its drawbacks though: you no longer can hide yourself, and whatever we, where we go, has its digital traces. Sometimes, it's just better to block it out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Digital Roadmap Comes Undone?

In a recent Atlantic Monthly article, Michael Hirschorn proposes in Closing the Digital Frontier that we are close to an era of the "digital Wild West," that vast electronic ecology where everything that roamed online was designed to be free of charge. This has all changed, as we have entered a shift of the digital frontier from the Web, where the browser "ruled supreme," to one where the smart phone, the app and the pricing plan now increasingly controls the digital world. There are signs that this is coming to be; however, if this is fully realized, then this is nothing more than an enormous radical shift from openness of the knowledge web to a closed system of entrepreneurial reign.

Digital freedom, of the monetary and First Amendment varieties, may in retrospect have become our era’s version of Manifest Destiny, our Turner thesis. Embracing digital freedom was an exaltation, a kind of noble calling.

Hirschorn makes a good case, and the facts are there to back up the concept of a digital frontier slowly being shaped into something capitalistic. In the U.S., there are only three major cell-phone networks, a handful of smart-phone makers, and one company that has essentially endeavoured for the entire life of the Internet to combating the idea of open, or as Chris Anderson hailed, the revolution of "free." It's true - just think of how difficult it is for one to move legally purchased digital downloads.

Perhaps Apple has subtly taken on the digital battle that Microsoft had badly bungled when Google came along. We are already witnessing media companies pushing content through apps alongside (or even instead of) their Web sites. Netflix plans to send movies and TV shows directly to TV sets, making their customers’ experience virtually indistinguishable from ordering up on-demand shows by remote control. The web has truly moved to the living room TV, as Bill Gates had once predicted (although accidentally and largely incorrectly before the Web) in the Road Ahead.

This is an unnerving proposition. Is this the end of the era of browser dominance? Hirschorn points out that Twitter, like other recent social networks, is not even bothering with its Web site, choosing to instead focus on its more fully-featured smart-phone app. TweetDeck, which collates feeds across multiple social networks, is not even browser-based.

Have we truly entered the age where apps will compete and ultimately win over the web, as more authors and companies put their text, audio, and video behind pay walls? Google is endeavouring to find ways to link through pay walls and across platforms, but this model will clearly will be challenged by the upcoming changes to the web. Its long standing neutrality and impartiality regarding Adsense and Adwords has already been upended; advertisers now can choose where to place and pull their ads from websites. Google's slowly becoming the advertising matchmaker in the process. If this is really the beginning of the end for free and open access, then the digital wasteland has become undone. Will Web 3.0?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Race to the Past

Although Read Write Web calls it the ongoing game of cat and mouse between China and Google, in my opinion, this hearkens back to the long history of colonialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Much of this tension stems from the Chinese government's suspicion and fear that Google is essentially bypassing Chinese firewalls and spreading Western influence into areas beyond Chinese control. Certainly, from a Western-centric viewpoint, this has always been about democratization and intellectual freedom. However, the same could be said in 1839, when the British aspired to open the doors to China for trade. Hence, the Google vs. China standoff is very much a commercial venture could very well be more about commerce than democracy. Instead of pulling out of China, Google certainly realizes the enormous wealth and lucrative markets of the Chinese, and it simply can't continue as a multinational giant by bypassing 1.31 billion of the world's population.

For that reason alone, rather than pulling out altogether, Google sidestepped any potential conflict this past winter by automatically redirecting its users from to, its Hong Kong search engine. This redirect, which offers unfiltered search in simplified Chinese, has been working well for its users and for Google, as it reports on its latest blog entry.

However, the PRC has stepped up its firmness, as government officials have made it clear that the automatic redirection to Google Hong Kong is no longer acceptable. Google's solution? Instead of redirecting users directly from to, the Chinese homepage will now simply link to its Hong Kong counterpart, which allows users to search free of censorship. As many have commented, the best Google can hope for is to find an acceptable middle ground so that it can honor its own commitment to unfiltered search results while working within the rules set by the Chinese government. And Hong Kong's Google site seems to be that solution, if not long-term, then at least temporarily.

It's interesting, and perhaps historically relevant that Hong Kong is the compromise. A landing spot for much of its history until its recent commercial success this latter part of the 20th century, Hong Kong has always been an entrepot, an entry point where migrants, travelers, and traders stationed temporarily to either evade state authorities or build support for political upheaval. In fact, Hong Kong is where the seeds of Sun Yat-sen's 1911 revolution had taken place. Almost 100 years later, Hong Kong finds itself enmeshed again between the two powers which divide the orient.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Googling for the News

In a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly, Google is intriguingly portrayed as both the destroyer and saviour of the news industry. Certainly, while Google has forever changed the way users access the news, and practice journalism, Google also realizes it needs to salvage the industry as it is crucial to its own survival as a business.

Google's goal is to reinvent business model to sustain professional news-gathering, particularly as “crowd sourcing” and citizen journalism has transformed news coverage. As one of its executives argues, newspapers never made money on ‘news' coverage, Hal Varian argues, automotive sections, real-estate, gardening, travel, or technology had drew profits where advertisers could target their ads -- not serious journalism.

What Google (and the Web) has been done is level this into one giant system for stripping away these "cross-subsidies" current, up-to-the-minute information can be searchable. (Who searches for latest movie listings from newspapers anyways?) This type of "unbundling," as Google puts it, allows users to find the one article they are looking for, rather than making them buy the entire paper that paid the reporter, "all the while allowing advertisers to reach the one customer who is searching for their product, rather than making them advertise to an entire class of readers."

In fact, as Eric Schmidt forecasts:

It’s obvious that in five or 10 years, most news will be consumed on an electronic device of some sort. Something that is mobile and personal, with a nice color screen. Imagine an iPod or Kindle smart enough to show you stories that are incremental to a story it showed you yesterday, rather than just repetitive. And it knows who your friends are and what they’re reading and think is hot. And it has display advertising with lots of nice color, and more personal and targeted, within the limits of creepiness. And it has a GPS and a radio network and knows what is going on around you.

This is already what many pundits say the next generation web, or Web 3.0, will look like. I'm wondering if Google is just holding back on the good news.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Henry Jenkins' From Youtube to YouNiversity

Henry Jenkins is the creator of the Comparative Media Studies (CMS) graduate program at MIT, and can be considered an innovator in digital culture. At its core, his MIT program has encouraged students to think across media, across historical periods, across national borders, across academic disciplines, across the divide between theory and practice and across the divides between the academy and the rest of society. Although he has moved on to being Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, his blog entries continue to be as interesting as ever.
Blogs represent a powerful tool for engaging in these larger public conversations. At my university, we noticed that a growing number of students were developing blogs focused on their thesis research. Many of them were making valuable professional contacts; some had developed real visibility while working on their master's degrees; and a few received high-level job offers based on the professional connections they made on their blogs. Blogging has also deepened their research, providing feedback on their arguments, connecting them to previously unknown authorities, and pushing them forward in ways that no thesis committee could match. Now all of our research teams are blogging not only about their own work but also about key developments in their fields.
As Jenkins argues, academic programs are only starting to explore how they might deploy these new media platforms -- blogs and podcasts especially -- to expand the visibility of their research and scholarship. Watch Jenkin's ideas in this intriguing video - it certainly adds flavour to the argument of the participatory culture of learning.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wolfram Alpha and Year One of the Shroud of Turin

One year after the release of Wolfram Alpha, the hoopla has come and gone. It just seems as if the world wasn't quite ready for Wolfram to come and grab the spotlight away from Google. Heavily weighted toward computational queries, with blended tendency of manipulating its data sets as opposed to simply retrieving what is actually available on the Web means its results can be more authoritative than a list of links.

As a result, Wolfram has "sold out" in a way, as it plans to make over its home page, and will start adding data for more pop-culture-friendly information such as sports, music, health information, and even its own take on local mapping. The problem is that Wolfram just doesn't know what it's for: as one pundit puts it, "Wolfram Alpha is like a cross between a research library, a graphing calculator, and a search engine."

Another challenge for Wolfram is that unlike Google, Wolfram expects to cash in on its enterprise: let's put it this way, it isn't doing this for knowledge dissemination. It plans to sell subscriptions to advanced users who want to do thing like blend their own custom data with Alpha's engine. The question remains: who's going to use it? Its business model is incumbent on a smaller, elite set of expert users. Google, on the other hand, has a business model that's shown a way to work based on use by just about everybody. There's a neatly aligned financial alliance between more users and revenue.

It's unfortunate as Wolfram Alpha came out with a great deal of anticipation and hope. Stephen Wolfram's presentation was very much as if he was uncovering new findings from the Shroud of Turin. Audience members anxiously waited their turns to throw questions which Wolfram easily captured with his new search engine. Unfortunately, for the past year, it appears as if much has come up short.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Copyright Wars

William Patry, author of Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars and blogger on the Patry Copyright Blog, poses some interesting food for thoughts. The "copyright wars," as he puts it, is an archetypal response of outmoded businesses who not only fail to innovative, but use the innovation of others to succeed. The lawsuits and the lawyers hired to manage them, are signs that companies lack such commitment; in other words, litigation is reflective of this failed business model, not its success.

Just look at the decline in sales of CDs, DVDs, and software piracy- they are all results of the copyright industries' failure to satisfy consumers' desires as opposed to stifling those desires out of a woefully misguided view that copyright is control and control means profits.

Intriguingly, Patry believes that Japan and South Korea are role model countries for the copyright wars. Both countries reveal the win-win situation that can occur when government takes innovation policy seriously and where publishers go with the technology and youth, rather than the need to declare war on them as is the case in the United States (and by extension, Canada). In South Korea, the availability of such inexpensive, super-fast broadband as well as the communal nature of digital connectedness has led to the phonemena that exist on a scale in South Korea unimaginable in the US.

Cyworld is one example. According to Patry, 43% of South Koreans use and maintain profiles in Cyworld, which is a social networking community. A combination of social websites like MySpace, a virtual world like Second Life, a blog-hosting site like Xanga, as well as a virtual shopping mall where music is legally downloaded. Korean corporations use Cyworld for product launches. It is part of the social fabric, as youths are associated by their cyaddresses.

Yet, this is a state-sponsored initiative. South Korea has come a long way when internet first appeared in 1995. It has modernized the country's infrastructure in contrast to the regulatory entanglements that has stunted the development of the US telecommunications industry. Impressive considering South Korea had fewer than 1% of its population using the Internet while by 2004, it had over 71% of its population.

It was a concerted effort by the South Korean government in the midst of an economic turmoil of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. Rather than folding under pressure, Korean policy makers instead used technology as a key sector in restoring the nation's economic health, providing not only fiber connection to all big office and apartment buildings, and households (more than 80%) access to fast DSL or cable connections -- but also a national highspeed backbone network linking government facilities and public institutions.

Of course, there is always a drawback: and that resulted when unauthorized downloads or streaming of movies occurred frequently. Instead of shutting down operations, TimeWarner decided to defy its past business model and began releasing its films online in South Korea before they were released on DVD. Not surprisingly, South Korea is a digital culture, one where music sales are done digitally, much more so anywhere else in the world.

In Japan, whole novels are sold via cellphones. Japan's cellphone novels are not a craze, but a norm. Can you imagine where entire novels are read via cell phones? Only is it possible with such amazing broadband connections. In a country in which wireless connections have been common for at least the past decade, this is not a surprising cultural and literary feat. What can be learned from this? Certainly, for the West, open source and open access continue to face alarming distrust and misunderstanding, particularly in the publishing establishment, where copyright and corporatism rule both the digital and print world. It will be interesting to see in the next few years whether the West has caught on with the rest of the world.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Open Access & The Pulitzer Prize

The awarding of the Pulitzer Prizes to a a cartoonist for, the online arm of the San Francisco Chronicle, and an investigative journalist at ProPublica are in many ways a paradigm shift in the literary, publishing, and the age of the internet. Their award is historical as it's the only time an online-only publication has won such a prestigious award for editorial content.

An independent journalism outlet that syndicates content to various traditional news organizations but itself operates solely on the Internet, ProPublica specializes on investigative reporting who had won the award along with the Philadelphia Daily News. Competing against multi-million dollar New York Times, ProPublica still managed to win. A non-profit organization, it offers a resource for struggling news organizations that can't afford to focus human resources on investigative reporting.

In the other award, Mark Fiore won the award for his editorial cartoon work, a series of web videos on Competing against the likes of established The Philidelphia Inquirer and Politico, this is a huge feat. Although it has only been two years since the Pulitzer Prize board first began permitting online-only publications, ProPublica and SFGate's achievements have significant implications in both the publishing and literary world.

Of course, with the ubiquitous availability of Internet access, it has become commonplace for academics to publish a scholarly article and have it instantly accessible anywhere in the world where there are computers and Internet connections. The possibilities of open access comes at a time when the traditional, print-based scholarly journals system is in crisis, as the cost of publishing can no longer match the demand of subscribers. As the number of journals and articles produced has been increasing at a steady rate, the average cost per journal has been rising at a rate far above inflation.

As a result, this all indicates that the web has become the great equalizer for publishers and writers. Until recent time, both academics and publishers have been skeptical about the quality and legitimacy of web publications. Perhaps the latest winners of the Pulitzer Prize by two creators of online content is an indication that open access is slowly making its way into the public consciousness.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Gladwell on Social Media

In a surprising splash of cold water, Malcolm Gladwell dispelled the anticipation and excitement of social media enthusiasts at the F5 Expo in Vancouver, BC. As a conference that converges interactive exhibits, peer idea-collaboration amongst fellow entrepreneurs and executives, and "edge-of-your-seat conferences into one explosive day," on topics such as mobile apps, search marketing, business blogs/webinars, social media, and web 2.0 . . . Gladwell came, and Gladwell left, with a debris of ideas for us to take home.

Gladwell took to the stage at a Vancouver conference on online technologies Wednesday to dismiss the opinion that social media will change our society. He believes that trust -- or the lack of it -- is the main reason why the social web offers weak connections rather than strong. While the Internet offers anonymity and a broad reach, it fails to deliver trust.

Intriguingly, he thinks social media is still in its experimental phase. For someone as observant and bright as Gladwell is, he certainly makes a good point. In the brief history of the internet, it builds something up up only for it to be toppled later. Perhaps Facebook is just a flavour of the month. The web is not a world that respects loyalties and longevity. . . Will Twitter?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Google Vs. The Great Wall of China

I'm really enjoying the latest row between Google and China as it's pits two giants against each other despite the fact that both are battling it out in different contexts. For all the talk about the Google Book Project or the DMCA, Google's pulling out of China has seemingly deserved little attention from Western media. Google is certainly pulling no punches as it has decided to monitor the status of Google in China. Google has launched a website that makes it easy to see how things are going down -- and it's not very pretty to be honest.

Instead of simply withdrawing from China, Google has decided to redirect traffic from to — their site hosted out of Hong Kong. This version of Google hosts unfiltered results — something that likely isn’t too popular with Chinese officials. Moreover, Google stopped censoring its search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Users visiting are now being redirected to, where it offers uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong. Users in Hong Kong will continue to receive their existing uncensored, traditional Chinese service, also from Essentially, Google has decided to let China make the call — instead of shutting down the service themselves, it’s now going to be up to China to pull the plug.

As a snapshot in historical context, this is very much a tense standoff between multinational corporatism and state nationalism. As a result, Google Inc. partners in China are said to follow billionaire Hong Kong Li Ka-shing's lead and cut links with the U.S. Internet company after it defied the nation's self-censorship rules. Li's Tom Online Inc. has already stopped using Google's search engine on its portal and media buyer Zenith Optimedia; advertisers it represents may also switch to rivals after Google began this redirection of its mainland users to an unfiltered offshore site. Not surprisingly, China Mobile Ltd. has a deal with Google to provide mobile and Internet services. What is going to transpire? As we said earlier, this is a game of chicken, with both sides fairly rigid in its position and solidified in its respective empires.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hong Kong Central Library

When I first stepped foot into the Hong Kong Central Library, I had immediately realized had entered the library of the future. The Central Library, the largest of the 76 public libraries in a city of 7 million people, is the main library of Hong Kong. Located at the intersection of Moreton Terrace and Causeway Road in Causeway Bay, the Central Library is a 12-storey high building in with an area of 9,400 sq. metres plus a floor area of 33,800 sq. metres, built at a construction cost of HK$690 million. What are some of the features which make HK Central Library on par with the best knowledge institutions of the world? Here are just a few:

(1) Intelligent Building - The Hong Kong Central Library is an intelligent building, using the most advanced architecture. Intelligent Buildings concepts include a purpose is to control, monitor and optimise building services, (eg. lighting, heating, security, CCTV, and alarm systems, access control, audio-visual and entertainment systems, ventilation, filtration and climate control, and even time & attendance control and reporting (notably staff movement and availability). This is also called building automation, which is essentially a control system using a computerized, intelligent network of electronic devices, designed to monitor and control the mechanical and lighting systems of a building

(2) State-Of-The-Art Multimedia - Called the Multimedia Information System, the MMIS is an example of all-embracing use of information technology and computer application in the Hong Kong Central Library. As such a three level audio-on-demand and video-on-demand system are set up. In order to enable more public use of the first level video and third level audio and video of the AOD/VOD system, about ninety Asynchronous Transfer Mode terminals are installed in the library. In other words, the library allows its users the most advanced technologies available.

(3) Global Repository - has been designated as the legal depository library in Hong Kong for nine global organizations: Asian Development Bank, European Union, International Labour Organization, International Maritime Organization United Nations, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Bank, World Trade Organization; and World Food Programme.

(4) Looking Back, Moving Forward - Because of the Central Library's sheer size coupled with its unique facilities, it even hosted the Hong Kong Library Association's 50th Anniversary conference. HKLA held the international conference in 2008, called "Looking Back, Moving Forward: Asian Libraries in the World of Information" which focused on the key issues and challenges which face libraries in Asia.

(5) History & Culture - Very much an educational institutional as it is a technological masterpiece, cultural symbolism is highlighted throughout the building. In particular, memorial plaques dedicated to famous modern Chinese writers in the library emblazon the library, one of them was for the witty and erudite scholar-novelist Qian Zhongshu (錢鍾書).

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Vancouverism and 2010

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver has come and gone. It has forever changed the city. Vancouver is also known for its unique Vancouverism. Characterized by mixed-use developments, typically with a medium-height, commercial base and narrow, high-rise residential towers to accommodate high populations and to preserve view corridors, Vancouverism is an urban planning and architectural technique pioneered in Vancouver, Canada.

Vancouver is somewhat unique among large North American cities with such a large residential population living in the city centre, and no expressways connecting the core to the suburbs, and still being able to significantly rely on mass public transit for its citizens. It these reasons contribute to the fact that it is consistently ranked among the most livable cities in the world. Not to mention its gorgeous landscape during the spring, summer, fall, and winter seasons. Perhaps Vancouver should also be known in Vancouverism for its knowledge capital. Why? Here are some main features:

1. Libraries - If anything, Vancouver has some of the most gorgeous libraries in the world. Its Central Library in Library Square occupies a city block in the eastward expansion of downtown Vancouver. Centred on the block, the library volume is a nine-story rectangular box containing book stacks and services, surrounded by a free-standing, elliptical, colonnaded wall featuring reading and study areas that are accessed by bridges spanning skylit light wells. The library's internal glass facade overlooks an enclosed concourse formed by a second elliptical wall that defines the east side of the site. This glass-roofed concourse serves as an entry foyer to the library and the more lively pedestrian activities at ground level. Public spaces surrounding the library form a continuous piazza with parking located below grade. The building's exterior is often said to resemble the Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome

2. Social Media community - Vancouver has one of the most vibrant, trendiest Web 2.0 communities in the world. An urban city, the majority of these companies are clustered around downtown. Some of the best Web 2.0 writers and bloggers hail from Vancouver, BC. Mitch Joel's 6 Pixels of Separation, Miss 604, Stephen Hui, Rob Cottingham, and the Search Principle are but a few examples social and semantic media trendsetters.

3. Open data / Open Access initiatives -Some of Vancouver's public institutions are progressive minded. Just take a look at the Vancouver City Archives. It's been luring open-source and open-data enthusiasts to a meet-up in January with the promise of free coffee, free Wi-Fi, and free information. Holding such an informal social and coding session is not only a logical fit for the direction the archives is taking, but certainly opens up new opportunities for what the Semantic Web is going to look like.

4. Multiculturalism 2.0 - One of the most culturally and ethnically diverse in the world, almost 60 per cent of people in Vancouver are expected to be a visible minority by 2031. As such, Web 2.0 has changed the way multicultural citizens perceive, interact, and communicate - particularly so in the city of Vancouver. In fact, it is often new immigrants who arrive in Canada that have better survival skills and have used the Web extensively for research before arriving in Vancouver. These immigrants tend to be urban, wealthy, and the most technology adept and often ahead of the trend. As a result, in multiculturalism 2.0 city, one's individual online identity is replicated like one's cultural identity, which is fluid and not limited to “websites about websites."

Friday, March 05, 2010

Bibliothèque nationale de France

This is one of the most historic, most beautiful libraries in the modern world. Tracing its origin to the royal library founded at the Louvre by Charles V in 1368, the Bibliothèque nationale de France expanded under Louis XIV and opened to the public in 1692. With library's collections swelling to over 300,000 volumes during the radical phase of the French Revolution when the private libraries of aristocrats and clergy were seized, the library became the Imperial National Library and in 1868 was moved to newly constructed buildings on the Rue de Richelieu following a series of regime changes in France. At one time or another - 1896 to be exact - the library was in fact the largest repository of books in the world.