Google Gets Off Task

Opinion: Library deal is another indication that the leader in search is expanding its sea of information and losing sight of its core value: better search results.

Am I the only person who wasnt knocked senseless by Googles announcement that it plans to put five major libraries online? To read the headlines, youd think Google was making an incredible amount of really useful information available for free. But as so often happens, the large print giveth and the small print taketh away.

And while Google continues its love affair with the mostly uncritical media, the announcement really—to me, anyway—spotlights how much better Google has become at finding content to index than it is at providing useful search results.

As for the libraries deal: The books Google will be making available, at least in full text, arent the kind of reference works that you and I use everyday. Even the total number of books being indexed may be significantly less than has been widely reported.

The 15 million figure thats been quoted doesnt seem to account for duplicate holdings by the libraries. Of the 8 million books at Stanford and 7 million at the University of Michigan, how many duplicates do you suppose there are? I am not saying this is intentional overstatement on Googles part, but the widely quoted number seems inflated.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about the Google libraries deal.

The only books that will be available full-text are those whose copyright has expired. Thats a boon for researchers who need historical references but doesnt add much to what the average Google customer already has available. Most of us need todays answers, not yesterdays.

For those books still under copyright, Ive read that Google will offer excerpts and then tell the user where the book is available in a public library and/or where it may be purchased. Nothing wrong with this, but you can bet Google will get a piece of every book sold.

It also seems likely that some of the copyrighted content will end up being made available on a coin-op basis, with users paying for online access to the material. There is nothing wrong with this, but it certainly would have muted some of the media cheerleading had it been understood that Google might be creating a huge paid library alongside its free offering.

Next Page: Deal is reminiscent of shovelware.