On Libraries, Alexandria and Github

(The Library of Alexandria and Microsoft's Buy of Github)


Libraries remain important — even in a disruptive age of distributed information and network effects, we still rely upon and benefit from aggregation.

“The Royal Library of Alexandria or Ancient Library of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. It was dedicated to the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts.[1] It flourished under the patronage of the Ptolemaic dynasty and functioned as a major center of scholarship from its construction in the 3rd century BC until the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, with collections of works, lecture halls, meeting rooms, and gardens. Alexandria was considered the capital of knowledge and learning, in part because of the Great Library.[2] The library was part of a larger research institution called the Musaeum of Alexandria, where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied.”

The Library at Alexandria was in charge of collecting all the world’s knowledge, and most of the staff was occupied with the task of translating works onto papyrus paper. It did so through an aggressive and well-funded royal mandate involving trips to the book fairs of Rhodes and Athens.[18] According to Galen, any books found on ships that came into port were taken to the library, and were listed as “books of the ships“.[19] Official scribes then copied these writings; the originals were kept in the library, and the copies delivered to the owners.[19] Other than collecting works from the past, the library served as home to a host of international scholars, well-patronized by the Ptolemaic dynasty with travel, lodging, and stipends for their whole families.[12]

And why am I thinking about this?

From Andreesen Horowitz:

Six years ago we invested an “eye-popping” $100 million into GitHub. This was not only a Series A investment and the first institutional money ever raised by the company, but it was also the largest single check we had ever written. We’d expected there to be quite a bit of criticism, and while a few made some good arguments, we simply had a different opinion. Where they saw us “overpaying,” we saw a once-in-a-decade company. You see, modern programming is about assembling code — in the form of libraries, open source work, etc. — as well as writing it, and code tends to belong in one place where it’s easy to access and that place was, is, and will be GitHub. At the time, it had over 3 million Git repositories — a nearly invincible position.

Cloud computing was nascent. Companies weren’t yet thinking about digital transformation. But software was eating the world, and it was being built on GitHub.

Today Microsoft announced they are acquiring GitHub for $7.5 billion. By combining the GitHub platform with Microsoft’s cloud offering, Satya Nadella and team aim to build the future of software development.

That’s why.

It costs to build a repository where everyone knows they can go and build and come back and use or look for and benefit from the work of others in a focused manner. It was true in Alexandria and it remains the case today. I may have prompted a great deal of disagreement as we enter the nascent stages of decentralization but human nature and human needs remain the same. CEO Satya Nadella’s reorganization of Microsoft informs this acquisition:

computing is more powerful and ubiquitous from the cloud to the edge. Second, AI capabilities are rapidly advancing across perception and cognition fueled by data and knowledge of the world. Third, physical and virtual worlds are coming together to create richer experiences that understand the context surrounding people, the things they use, the places they go, and their activities and relationships.

Microsoft’s transition from a closed OS past towards an open A.I. platform will hopefully be more successful than past missteps in Internet 1.0 and mobile.


Originally published at big-stack.com on June 4, 2018.