Whatever happened to Google Books?

Google has never been shy of tackling the big problems of information organisation and retrieval, so when it first turned its attention from taming the disorganised swamp that was the early internet into a selectively retrievable cornucopia of material, it caused a big stir when it launches its first headline grabbing project to partner with large libraries to digitise the world’s printed books and make them both available and searchable in their entirety online.

“You have thousands of years of human knowledge, and probably the highest-quality knowledge is captured in books. So not having that — it’s just too big an omission.”

Sergey Brin, Google Co-founder (speaking to the New Yorker)

The dream of a “library of utopia” has been, well, shelved. Instead of making the world’s knowledge available online, Google has settled for snippets taken out of context that are useful for little more than peeking inside a book at its writing style and checking the odd literary quote. A mixture of legal controversy as authors and publishers linked arms to defend their intellectual property under copyright law saw the project grow too long in the tooth and lose much of its momentum along the way, despite recently winning the landmark legal victory to proceed with as originally planned.

Google appears to have moved on to other projects. It is not like books have lost their value, but rather that the Google Books project is no longer the latest headline grabbing thing. For a company like Google that thrives on its advertising revenue, being talked about is the prime requisite for its continued financial good health. Restarting a project that has lost its surface shine might no longer be talked about enough to make it worth Google’s time.

Click here to read more about the history of Google Books on the Back Channel blog.

Photo by ~Morgin~

Posted in Thing of the Day

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