The Project Gutenberg (PG) philosophy is “to make information, books and other materials available to the general public in forms a vast majority of the computers, programs and people can easily read, use, quote, and search.”
PG does this by providing “Etexts” — plain vanilla ASCII text versions — of books and information in the public domain, taking in a wide catalogue of works by the world’s greatest authors of the past. (Past, because a book must be out of copyright in order for PG to copy and reproduce it.)
While the PG etexts provide for more esoteric functions such as the ability to search for specific quotations, etc. without anything more sophisticated than the simple search features found in text editors and operating system utilities, for most people PG is all about providing free access to a world of literature without having to buy printed books.
Some time ago, the HTML Writers Guild (HWG) initiated a project in which I became involved to mark up PG etexts in XML or XHTML. There were many good (but to the average Joe, pretty boring) technical reasons for doing this, but the main benefits to most people would be
- ready access to books through the Web
- the ability to view books directly in their web browsers, rather than downloading files and opening them in a text editor or word processor
- instead of seeing the "plain vanilla" presentation of the etext, readers could enjoy styling (colours, fonts, proper text emphasis,and so on) provided by the markup that makes the text more like a book than like a 1970s computer print-out.
The project seems to have ground to a halt, as mailings just stopped and the project web site hasn’t been updated in a long time. However, I had begun marking up a few texts in XHTML, including this classic of Scottish literature, available for free download.
 Anyone peeking at the source code might think the markup scheme and style sheet a little strange. It was done this way to fall into line with the needs of the HWG project.