Amateur Beats Gov't at Digitizing Newspapers: Tom Tryniski’s Weird, Wonderful Website

A retiree with a scanner builds one of the world's largest historic newspaper sites while tax-funded projects stall.

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The Brooklyn Public Library spent two years and about $400,000 dollars digitizing just the first 62 years of the Daily Eagle's run, which comes to about 150,000 pages. (A little more than half the funding was provided by a federal grant.) That was back in 2003. For the last decade, the library has been trying to raise money to finish the job.

In the meantime, Tom Tryniski digitized the entire 115-year run of the newspaper, which amounts to almost 750,000 pages.

In its January 2013 strategic plan, the Brooklyn Public Library promises that it will finish digitizing the Daily Eagle (along with 63 Brooklyn community newspapers) by 2015. In an interview, Library Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan said the institution hasn't raised any money yet towards that goal, but that it will be a major priority once other "monstrous projects" are out of the way.

Librarian Joy Holland, who oversees the Brooklyn Public Library's Daily Eagle site, says she's "immensely grateful" for what Tryniski has done, and directs researchers to the site all the time. She also thinks the library's site, while far more limited is scope, is "more suitable for use in educational environments."

Tryniski occassionally live-streams squirrels eating corn on his front desk.courtesy Tom TryniskiThe site has fewer keyword recognition errors than Fultonhistory.com, and for casual users, it’s easier to search. Fultonhistory.com also has a bizarre interface that includes swimming fish and the occasional live video stream of squirrels eating corn on Tryniski's front deck. Perhaps the strangest detail is a moving graphic in the left hand corner of the screen that shows Tryniski's head grafted on top of the body of a spider.

Tryniski, who has never altered the site's original graphic design, says he's emphasizing content over style.

"I could spend all my time on the interface, or I could spend my time on the digitization and data processing," says Tryniski. "Once you hit the search button the interface disappears and you get to see the newspapers."

Tryniski's had discussions with the New York State Library to donate his archive eventually, but talks have stalled. He gets emails all the time from users sharing discoveries they've made on his site and thanking him for making it all possible.

"I just get a lot of satisfaction helping people find information," says Tryniski. "It's just really nice looking back in time and reading about what was going on."

Video written, produced, shot and edited by Jim Epstein, who also narrates.

Approximately 5 minutes.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

[*]: About 2 million pages that the NEH has awarded grants for haven't yet made it online, so the $3 per page estimate was arrived at by dividing $22 million (total grant funding as of 2012) by 7,271,000 pages (total paid for by grants as of 2012).

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  • fried wylie||

    which he created in his living room in upstate New York

    Because, with the internet, that matters at all.

  • Brandon||

    Well, the fact that he has managed to survive in the hellish post-apocalyptic landscape of upstate New York and avoid being killed in a crossfire by Bloomberg's private army is commendable.

  • fried wylie||

    Fair Enough.

  • fried wylie||

    a friend loaned him a collection of old postcards of Fulton, New York, the town where he's lived all his life. He decided to scan and share them online with his neighbors.

    How many separate copyright violations is that?

  • SugarFree||

    Depends on how old they were.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    This must be a hoax. Nobody could do this but the government.

  • fried wylie||

    Not legally, at least.

  • phandaal||

    Somebody ought to inform the post office! When they're done suing Lance Armstrong, they can get the rest of their budget shortfall from this guy.

  • $park¥||

    "Why not use the money for a lighter index to get more pages online? It would be interesting to sit down with the Library of Congress and the NEH and have a conversation about what's the best thing we can do for consumers,"

    Oh, I'm sure it would be quite interesting.

  • lap83||

    you beat me to it

    him: "What would be the best thing we can do for consumers?"

    them: "What is this 'consumer' you keep mentioning? Sounds like right-wing extremist talk. You stay right there, sir, until the Homeland Security officer gets here."

  • OldMexican||

    One computer expert working alone has built a historic newspaper site that's orders of magnitude bigger and more popular than one created by a federal bureaucracy with millions of dollars to spend.


    But the government can still build ROADZ because, well, the market is not willing to do that. Everybody knows that.

  • Soda||

    Yeah! He didn't build that!

  • OldMexican||

    "Why not use the money for a lighter index to get more pages online? It would be interesting to sit down with the Library of Congress and the NEH and have a conversation about what's the best thing we can do for consumers," says Hansen.


    Psst, hey! Hansen! This is government we're talking about here. Government. There are no consumers to speak about, just saps that pay for it.

  • sarcasmic||

    I'm sure that the people who build the website are not allowed to even consider interaction with the people who actually use it.
    My guess is that there is a special government committee that meets once a month to decide what to add to the site. All work must be authorized by the committee. Any work that is not authorized must be undone. So those millions of dollars go to pay people to sit around and wait for the committee to give them something to do.

    At least that's how my "job" works anyway.

  • Cyto||

    I've experienced this in the business world. Sometimes when you have really smart people who have nobody in authority over them they can't get out of their own way. One of the owners of my last employer was just such a man. He was so smart that he kept thinking up new hypothetical problems and then new solutions for the hypothetical problem to add to our development projects.

    The net result was that the requirements kept changing right before we were ready to deploy, so nothing ever got deployed. Once he changed our scope every week for 60 consecutive weeks, then complained loudly to the board that we hadn't finished his project in over a year. So I trotted out 60 signed off work orders with changes of scope. He and the board agreed that they didn't want excuses, they expected results.

    And now you know why they pissed away a billion dollar company. And you also know where I learned my new business strategy - never work for crazy people.

  • Juice||

    Yes, but his website's layout is god awful and I mean the worst.

  • Slocum||

    The intro screen is silly, yes -- but the search results page works just fine. It's a bit ugly, but perfectly functional.

  • BrooklynBrett||

    This is literally the worst website I have ever look at or tried to use.

  • eyeroller||

    In the interest of accuracy, the site is not "orders of magnitude bigger and more popular".

    An order of magnitude is a factor of 10. Two orders of magnitude is a factor of 100.

    It looks like this site is about four times bigger and twice as popular.

  • Aresen||

    In general, orders of magnitude are measured in powers of 10.

    But powers of 2 can be used.

    So can 31.6 (Richter scale)

    So can 2.5 (stellar magnitudes)

  • chorizo||

    Gaaaahhhh!!! My eyes!!! It's missing an "Under Construction" GIF and a flying toaster or two. The fish are a nice touch.

  • Aresen||

    Yeah, cool graphics are what we want. Forget about information.

  • LemonMender||

    I wish someone he could get the funding to get a decent search function and the bandwidth to go with higher resolution images. Some nineteenth-century newspapers routinely set entire pages in 5-to-6-point type and his scans of those are too low-res to read.

    I've used this site many times in the past and search and navigation are really difficult. It's a great resource but painful to look at and hard to browse through.

    But that said, he has content that is simply inaccessible anywhere else and he's making it available free of charge. So my hat is off to him. And even if it has problems, I'm not convinced a well-funded government-run alternative would actually look or function any better.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    But that said, he has content that is simply inaccessible anywhere else and he's making it available free of charge. So my hat is off to him. And even if it has problems, I'm not convinced a well-funded government-run alternative would actually look or function any better.

    The proof is in the pudding. A very well funded government alternative isn't anywhere near as good.

    But I'd be that a reasonably funded private alternative that was designed to serve a specific purpose, rather than simply an archive of some sort, would fucking rule.

    What this site needs is an editor (think digital editions of manuscripts and the like - they are useful not because they contain pictures of said manuscripts, but because they are edited to serve a specific function).

  • MDS||

    How does Reason think up the subjects for their video? I could never have come up with the idea to do a video on this guy...

  • Nicole260||

    my buddy's mother makes $81 every hour on the laptop. She has been without a job for 6 months but last month her check was $20466 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Read more on this web site jump15.com

  • Little55||

    my neighbor's aunt makes $87 every hour on the computer. She has been without work for eight months but last month her pay was $13473 just working on the computer for a few hours. Go to this web site and read more http://www.wow92.com

  • lucasw908||

    Lauren. although Johnny`s comment is neat... last monday I got a gorgeous Lancia after having made $8137 this-past/month an would you believe $10 thousand this past-month. this is certainly the most financially rewarding I've ever done. I started this seven months/ago and practically straight away made more than $75, per hour. I use this web-site,
    http://qr.net/ka6n

  • DeanL||

    ProQuest has 2.2 billion pages in microfilm and 125 billion digital pages going back 500 years. So, the numbers in this article are chump change.
    http://www.proquest.com/

    Unfortunately, the company I work for was too stupid to leverage this and the industrial scanners made by another division. So our moron former CEO tried to split off that part of the company and failed spectacularly. They are lucky to still be in business.

  • juliabraon||

    If you think Marjorie`s story is super..., 5 weeks ago my brothers friend who's a single mum basically got $4440 workin a thirteen hour week from home and there roomate's sister-in-law`s neighbour has been doing this for nine months and earnt more than $4440 part-time On there computer. apply the steps on this web-site...

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  • rachelpool4||

    my classmate's sister makes $89 an hour on the laptop. She has been out of work for 9 months but last month her paycheck was $21878 just working on the laptop for a few hours. Here's the site to read more
    http://jump30.com

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