The information age – thoughts on how ‘search’ is evolving, and the impact of Google Books

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Some commentators say that after the agricultural and industrial ages, we are now in the information age. That may be true – information is everywhere, to the extent that we are almost drowning in it. Websites, blogs, podcasts, webcasts, etc. And that’s only online – on top there are newspapers, books, DVDs, videos, records, tapes, and live performances (unrecorded, and lost forever except in the memories of those present?). Google, and others, are trying to help people search through the world’s information, including now also the information previously not available online.

As part of its goal to help people search through the world’s information Google is digitizing ‘old media’ content so that it can also be searched (Google Books’ Library Project and Partner Program).

Google recently reached a settlement with the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers who filed a class action lawsuit over Google’s use of books, meaning that the Google Books project will likely now take off properly at last.

“Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Today, together with the authors, publishers, and libraries, we have been able to make a great leap in this endeavor,” said Sergey Brin, co-founder & president of technology at Google. “The tremendous wealth of knowledge that lies within the books of the world will now be at their fingertips.”

Google Books is a quite incredible achievement, and covers three categories of books:

1. In-copyright and in-print books

In-print books are books that publishers are still actively selling, the ones you see at most bookstores. This agreement expands the online marketplace for in-print books by letting authors and publishers turn on the “preview” and “purchase” models that make their titles more easily available through Book Search.

2. In-copyright but out-of-print books

Out-of-print books aren’t actively being published or sold, so the only way to procure one is to track it down in a library or used bookstore. When this agreement is approved, every out-of-print book that we digitize will become available online for preview and purchase, unless its author or publisher chooses to “turn off” that title. We believe it will be a tremendous boon to the publishing industry to enable authors and publishers to earn money from volumes they might have thought were gone forever from the marketplace.

3. Out-of-copyright books

This agreement doesn’t affect how we display out-of-copyright books; we will continue to allow Book Search users to read, download and print these titles, just as we do today.

Unfortunately for international users, rights ownership issues once again limit progress – the agreement that Google has reached with the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers, which resolves a United States lawsuit, directly affects only those users who access Book Search in the U.S.; anywhere else, the Book Search experience won’t change. Going forward, Google hopes to work with international industry groups and individual rightsholders to expand the benefits of the agreement to users around the world, but who knows how long this could take? In the new world, rights ownership seems to be a new form of economic block (like tariffs and quotas slowed the sharing of resources and technology in the past).

As with the agricultural and industrial ages, in the information age those who are at the front of innovation and development will tend to be winners. Sometimes however, being in the information age really feels more like being in the data age – it is only really information (or at least useful information) when it is relevant and focused. That is why online ‘search’ is far more important to the world than simply the marketing opportunity which ultimately finances Google (and excites its investors).

All the while, the volume of information continues to increase massively (and who’s to say that Google isn’t thinking of a way to search our memories for unrecorded live performances, and even our thoughts and opinions … at the very least, the growth of Twitter and blogs means that much more of this is being recorded nowadays).

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2 Responses

  1. As some of you know, I often draft my blog posts in advance of publishing them. This allows me to take time to review them and maybe edit further prior to posting. It also allows me to the chance to release posts, that I have previously written, when I am too busy to write new posts or have no new blog post ideas, and therefore still maintain a somewhat stable stream of posts. The downside to this approach is that sometimes my blog posts can become superseded by current events. The above post is one such case.

    Some of Google’s competitors have since challenged Google’s settlement:

    “Google Rivals Will Oppose Book Settlement”, Miguel Helft, The New York Times

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/technology/internet/21google.html?_r=1&dbk

    “Tech giants unite against Google:, Maggie Shiels, BBC News website

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8200624.stm

  2. […] For the latest news on Google Translate, check out their blog, and their Facebook page. Recently the’ve been making some improvements to the app (of course, updates usually arriving on Android platform first …), as well as some building interfaces to other platforms (eg, Google Books – for more on this, see my post ‘The information age – thoughts on how ‘search’ is evolving, and the impact of Google Books‘). […]

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