Googling It

Google recently announced a plan to begin working with the New York Public Library and some major university libraries from Harvard, Oxford, Michigan and Stanford to make the most important printed texts of the world available for online searching.

This is the second major literary initiative by Google this year, following a program called Google Print that allows the web-based search engine to search inside books.

Opinions are divided about Google, an American corporation based in the Bay Area. The company seems socially progressive — their motto is “Don’t Be Evil”. But it is a public corporation, which means it is owned by stockholders solely interested in increasing profit.

I’ve worked inside dot-coms (and I still do), and if you’ve hung around as many cubicles as I have, you know how hard it is for a new media corporation to make good decisions, or any decisions at all. I know many people are concerned about the power Google is amassing as it continues to index the world’s information. They don’t seem insidious. But what if they’re actually Martians?

Personally, I worry much more about Texas-based corporations than San Francisco-based ones and I applaud Google’s experimental forays into mankind’s vaults of texts. But I know there are a lot of valid opinions about this. What do you think?

13 Responses

  1. Insidious, you say?I’m not
    Insidious, you say?

    I’m not sure I understand how the Googlization of literature could be “insidious.” Perhaps you could elaborate. My main thought when I hear about all those works being put on the internet is simply that I don’t like to read from the computer for long periods of time. I prefer books which can be carried out onto the front porch, to the waiting room of a doctor’s office, the food court at the mall, etc. But I do depend on the internet a lot for research.

  2. … I definitely agree with
    … I definitely agree with you Bill, I can’t deal with lengthy texts on the screen, if I really wanna read it I’ll print it out.

  3. Well, maybe “insidious” is a
    Well, maybe “insidious” is a strong word. In fact, I don’t feel this way, but I have heard comments like this from others. I guess the concern is that the combination of Google’s advanced technology for knowledge consumption and their open access to the world’s public information sources as well as privileged access to book texts, privately held sources such as university libraries and public libraries gives them a LOT of power. Which is not a bad thing, but we have to remember that this is a stockholder-owned for-profit corporation. Just something to think about … no?

  4. With that in mindIt would
    With that in mind

    It would appear we need alternate, or underground, digital info storage, like the people in Fahrenheit 451 who lived in the woods and memorized books so the government couldn’t take them away from us.

    Note to Levi: Keep an eye on that insidious Jamelah Earle…

  5. It’s not necessarily
    It’s not necessarily insidious now, but there is definitely potential for insidiousness in the future. You could call it a slippery slope, or make the tired analogy with the frog in the pot of slowly boiling water.

    There is no point in denying now that eventually, most of our information will be accessed via the internet, in many cases exclusively so. Having the world’s accumulated knowledge available in your own home is a great advantage to those who might not have access to a good library. (Though the same people who don’t have access to a big library are also likely not to have access to a good internet hook-up.)

    The problem with the Google system is that the access to the knowledge will be privately owned. It’s just another layer of gatekeeping. Libraries are public, and available to anyone who can get to them.

    Imagine a case where a private company like Google owns the exclusive rights to present online the materials from all the major libraries; Google would likely have the right to present (or not present) this information in any way it saw fit. Say they wanted to black all the bad words out of Tom Sawyer. And imagine this was the only access to Tom Sawyer that many people had. (Because of online libraries, nobody goes to the brick and mortar ones anymore, so most of them have closed due to lack of funding.)

    There’s already a movie rental company called CleanFilms that edits the offensive bits out of Hollywood films to make them safe for the God-fearing. (Copyright issues notwithstanding). If Google or another private company owned the rights to texts, could they possibly do the same?

    And Google is run by okay guys now, but as a publicly-owned company, it’s really out of their control if somebody buys up enough stock to take majority control, or the shareholders sue under some new morality law that Congress passes.

    I know this is all an extreme case, but the private ownership of knowledge is a dangerous thing; just look at the drug companies with their patents. They own the patent, they get to set the price. If you can’t afford it, too bad.

    It’s just the kind of situation where it makes you wonder what you might be getting yourself into.

  6. Yes, Shamatha, that is what
    Yes, Shamatha, that is what I’m getting at. From what I’ve heard about Brin and Page, the two guys who run Google, I would trust them to babysit my kids without a problem. But now that Google is a publicly held company, the two founders no longer truly call the shots. If Google’s stock price fluctuates (which is a likely occurence), the company could easily be the victim of a hostile takeover. Then, who controls this information?

    Again, I’m not trying to be alarmist. And I really do like Google a lot (I use it, oh, about ten times a day). I just think this subject is worth discussing.

  7. Further questionsDo you have
    Further questions

    Do you have any information on whether Google will have any exclusivity to their tapping in to the words of libraries?

    Will all the information gleaned thru these books be free to the public or will the stockholders demand a payment for this?

  8. These are good questions,
    These are good questions, Cecil. I’m pretty sure this agreement is *not* exclusive, because if it was there would have to be a huge public outcry (I sure hope there would be! I’d be outcrying, even if nobody else was). However, there is an implicit exclusivity based on the fact that Google’s indexing technology is considered worlds above any of its competitors, and therefore they may be the only company that can actually present this information on the internet in the way in which it will be most useful.

    Your other question about payment is also important. In this case, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is a potential for paid-only access to all or some of the information.

  9. I understand all the concerns
    I understand all the concerns now. Cecil, brooklyn, Shamatha, all I can say is, someone needs to start scanning some lit.

  10. They Should Use My First
    They Should Use My First Book

    If only they would, they should use my first book.

    I can’t see any danger. Many people play PC games rather than read now.

  11. Not only that, but think how
    Not only that, but think how hard it’s been for the music industry to stop illegal file sharing. How could they possibly stop the sharing of literature. The government couldn’t even keep the Bible in Latin so as to leave poor people in the dark.

  12. Now William,I am of the view
    Now William,

    I am of the view that, had the government left the bible in Latin, the poor would be substantially better off. Of course, by definition I am the Anti-Christ, so what I have to say on the topic is slightly biased…be that as it may, that is one book I would prefer nobody to have access to. EVER. Google could take it, archive it, and erase it for all I care. Any rational human being should agree with me there.

  13. More problems with Warner
    More problems with Warner Bros.

    I have more problems with Warner Bros. than Google. I really resent that Warner Bros. has been bought out by a Japanese firm–Sony is it?

    However, we must not allow Google or any other large server to corral our information system. It makes things easier for hostile authority to slant knowledge for their own propaganda purposes.

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