Friday, February 12, 2010

Google’s modern-day Library of Alexandria is not looking like such a beacon anymore


The failed promise of digital content – Part 9

Google wants to be a modern-day version of the legendary Library of Alexandria. It wants to index the world’s information so it can be searched and discovered.
In the case of old books and newspapers, it’s digitizing the information itself.
But can a powerful, profit-seeking enterprise like Google be trusted to handle the task with the common good in mind? Many pundits are asking that question now because of Google’s controversial book-scanning initiative.
Google provided evidence to critics that it’s a poor steward of Internet data when it summarily deleted several popular music blogs and their content recently.
On Feb. 11, PaidContent.org wrote about how Google had deleted at least six popular music blogs that it claimed had violated copyright laws. “These sites, hosted by Google’s Blogger and Blogspot services, received notices only after their sites – and years of archives – were wiped from the internet,” Sean Michaels wrote.
This follows reports late last year of Google’s mishandling of a database of Usenet posts from the early days of the Internet.
Wired reported Oct. 7 that a treasure trove of Usenet postings entrusted to Google had been neglected for years and was nearly impossible to search.
Usenet was a vast electronic message board system established in 1980 by early Internet users. The archives controlled by Google contain such history as “the rise of Microsoft, the first Usenet review of the IBM PC in 1981, early rumblings of a Y2K problem in 1985,” and the birth of the Web, wrote Kevin Poulsen.
The database contains 700 million articles from 35,000 newsgroups, spanning two decades.
After Wired published its article, Google was shamed into taking action. In a follow-up article, Wired’s Poulsen said Google had “begun patching up its long-broken Usenet library.”
Now Google is seeking government approval for its settlement with book publishers and authors to scan millions of copyrighted books and make them searchable online. (See articles by the Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and Reuters.)
Google made reference to the Library of Alexandria in a brief this week defending the settlement.
“The (settlement) cannot claim to create a Library of Alexandria, and no settlement can bring back the works lost to Caesar’s fire,” it read. “But it is hoped that this compromise between authors, publishers, libraries, and a company willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to digitize so much of the printed history of humanity will be another small step toward the vision that the Alexandrian Library represents.”

Related weblinks:

The Googlization of Everything

This is the latest in a series of articles called “The Failed Promise of Digital Content.”

Photos: Google logo and artist’s depiction of the Library of Alexandria (Wikipedia).

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