Search (to) your (heart’s) content

I’m assuming everybody is already familiar with Google’s plans to scan all the books in the libraries of Stanford, Harvard and the University of Michigan and make the contents of all those books searchable. Not a problem for books in the public domain or whose publishers have given permission for them to be searchable, but publishers aren’t too happy about the fact that Google plans to scan every book and make them all searchable via Google Print. Now Google is planning to hold off on scanning copyrighted works for which they haven’t already received permission until November to give publishers a chance to opt out (ð: eWeek).

The Association of American Publishers and its extremely annoying chair, Patsy Schroeder, are moaning about this opt-out policy:

“The great concern of not just publishers but the entire intellectual property community is Google’s turning copyright law on its head,” [Schroeder] said. “All the burden is now on the rights holder.”

Okay, she might have a point except for one important thing: if Google turns up a search term in a copyrighted work they haven’t received permission to reproduce, you only get a couple of sentences of context around that search term. Even in books for which they have received permission, you only get a couple of pages (sounds complicated, but these screenshots pretty much tell the whole story). And, having tried it for quite a while today in a couple of different books, I can definitely say that trying to read even just ten pages on each side of a search term in a book for which permission had been given is not only extremely laborious, but probably impossible.

In any case, a couple of sentences from a 300-page book is pretty tiny, certainly no more than is regularly excerpted in book reviews, scholarly papers, etc. and nobody ever raises a fuss about those usages. Of course, that’s exactly Google’s defense: that what they’re doing is covered by fair use. Patsy disagrees. Which pretty quickly boils down to a legal argument, which I don’t particularly care about (and which isn’t clear-cut one way or the other).

The more important issue is this: even if what Google’s doing is technically illegal, why in the world would any publisher object? Google Print not only makes the books you already own easier to use, but provides great advertising for new books. As is my wont, let’s see an example of the latter first: today I plugged my father’s name into Google Print and was surprised to see that he’s mentioned in a couple of books. It turns out that the only interest I would have in those particular books is pure morbid fascination with people who take words like “process” way too seriously, but, if I’d been more seriously interested in any of the books that popped up, there are links to buy from several different vendors right there. In other words, this is a great way to find new books on topics of interest and, therefore, is great directed advertising for book publishers. Put a Nokia 770 in my hands, the entire Stanford library on Google Print and the desire to learn about some new topic in my head (it happens every once in a while), I’ll be buying books left and right (or, rather, I would be, if publishers could get their goddamned act together and back some universal electronic publishing standards [ð: TeleRead]).

As for the second point, between my brother, my father, and myself, we probably own every book Mark Twain’s ever wrote. My father also owns Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, which quotes Twain as having written:

There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.

It’s a great quote, but, despite knowing Twain wrote it and owning probably every Twain book ever, it would take forever to track down just exactly where he wrote it. However, judicious use of Google Print demonstrates that this quote comes from Life on the Mississippi and, furthermore, that it concludes a very amusing little paragraph. Now that’s what I call making my books more useful! Point is, publishers should be thanking Google for both the directed advertising of their books and for making those same books better (and, therefore, more desirable) at no cost. Instead, there are rumblings of lawsuits.

Note that Amazon‘s (selective) full-text search of the books they sell is the only comparable (though less ambitious) service already available. Of course, it should come as no surprise that Google and Amazon are at the front of this curve, since they’re about the only companies out there with both the vision to dream up something like this and (more importantly) the resources to implement it (though a nod of the head is due to the resourcefulness of both Project Gutenberg and Wikimedia).

Speaking of cool Amazon stuff, they’ve now got a feature in their maps section that allows you to see street-level photographs of locations on the map. It’s only available in 24 US cities (so far, anyway), but basically what they did is drive down a whole bunch of streets in a lot of big cities with digital cameras rolling and hooked into a GPS receiver, so you can not only see where the bar I went to last night is on the map, but what it looks like (not much). Of course, Google Maps are easier to search, but the street-level view is a hell of an idea and a nice complement to Google’s aerial photos.

In fact, one can only hope that someone out there is working on combining Google Maps’ search flexibility and aerial photographs, Amazon’s street-level pictures, JiWire’s hotspot finder and the Gmaps pedometer into one world-destroying über-map.

4 Responses to “Search (to) your (heart’s) content”

  1. shonk Says:

    I should have checked around a bit more before posting that last paragraph. MetroFreeFi displays free WiFi in cities all over the country on Google maps.

    Tons more Google maps fun at Mapki (ð: Lifehacker). Especially useful are Cheap Gas and FedEx Tracking.

    Also, Google Moon is cool.

  2. George Potter Says:

    [i]In fact, one can only hope that someone out there is working on combining Google Maps’ search flexibility and aerial photographs, Amazon’s street-level pictures, JiWire’s hotspot finder and the Gmaps pedometer into one world-destroying über-map.[/i]

    Heh. Shades of ‘Earth’ from SNOW CRASH. 🙂

  3. selling waves » Blog Archive » Opening up Says:

    […] na like it too much when they figure it out. Including, ironically, publishers. see also: my […]

  4. selling waves » Blog Archive » Street-level images + Google maps Says:

    […] oks like before ever having to venture out into the cruel and unforgiving sunlight. In my pos […]

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