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Google Books Businesses

How Google Book Search Got Lost (backchannel.com) 46

Google Books was the company's first moonshot. But 15 years later, the project is stuck in low-Earth orbit, argues an article on Backchannel. From the article: When Google Books started almost 15 years ago, it also seemed impossibly ambitious: An upstart tech company that had just tamed and organized the vast informational jungle of the web would now extend the reach of its search box into the offline world. By scanning millions of printed books from the libraries with which it partnered, it would import the entire body of pre-internet writing into its database. [...] Two things happened to Google Books on the way from moonshot vision to mundane reality. Soon after launch, it quickly fell from the idealistic ether into a legal bog, as authors fought Google's right to index copyrighted works and publishers maneuvered to protect their industry from being Napsterized. A decade-long legal battle followed -- one that finally ended last year, when the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal by the Authors Guild and definitively lifted the legal cloud that had so long hovered over Google's book-related ambitions. But in that time, another change had come over Google Books, one that's not all that unusual for institutions and people who get caught up in decade-long legal battles: It lost its drive and ambition. Google stopped updating Books blog in 2012, and folded it into the main Google Search blog. The author reports that Google still has people working on Book Search, and they are adding new books, but the pace is rather slower.
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How Google Book Search Got Lost

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  • Sigh. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @11:29AM (#54221967) Homepage

    Are they a shareholder-answerable business?

    Does it make them money?

    No? What did you expect?

    This isn't surprising. It never took off like some other things, it therefore turns into an expense with little return (Do they charge a percentage of book sales found through their searches? Can they enforce that and stop you just taking the ISBN and buying from Amazon once you've found it?), so it will die when people lose personal interest in it.

    The only things I can see staying any significant length of time are Google search and Google Apps. Everything else is just a boredom / filler project that can disappear like so many others, Google or not.

    • Re:Sigh. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @12:35PM (#54222411)

      >Are they a shareholder-answerable business?

      Yes, and they should cut executive pay. There are thousands of highly talented individuals that would do excellently at senior level management and board level positions for little to no pay. Am I using the 'asshole businessperson' logic correctly?

      >Does it make them money?

      You're posting on Slashdot, which *used* to be a haven for IT professionals, and the stereotype of 'IT only costs money, it generates no revenue' is still alive and well. But sure, you do you.

      >No? What did you expect?

      Exactly fucking this. They're not called 'moonshots' for nothing. Maybe you're just an ignorant asshole that knows nothing of the first Apollo missions, but go look those up.

      >This isn't surprising. It never took off like some other things, it therefore turns into an expense with little return (Do they charge a percentage of book sales found through their searches? Can they enforce that and stop you just taking the ISBN and buying from Amazon once you've found it?), so it will die when people lose personal interest in it.

      You need a better prescription because your shortsightedness is pretty bad. Let's see, Google could make a scientific publishing platform, combine that with search to prioritize and encourage people to check out their paid article/news service, which could have fact checking built in, and they could work out deals with the Associated Press to open up an online only news publishing wing. Google knows that there are certain people that *will* pay for things, and so they could use their vast inventory of information from books to complement/fill out services.

      Hell, they could take interesting random snippets from books that Google thinks are relevant to search terms, put some performance metrics on it, such as time spent reading quotes/text sections, or give people automated reports/answers to relatively complex questions, like 'what are the differences between x and y', and Google could compile a report with answers on it.

      >The only things I can see staying any significant length of time are Google search and Google Apps. Everything else is just a boredom / filler project that can disappear like so many others, Google or not.

      So that whole 'Android' thing didn't work out, huh? And mobile search just sucks donkey balls, right?

      And those self driving cars are just shit, right? And none of those patents will ever be useful, amirite?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Being an academic researcher, a future where Google Books and Google Scholar did not exist would reduce scientific output by well over 50%.

      Everyone uses both to find citations and data in minutes. That would take hours and booking assistance with a librarian in the university library to accomplish the same task that needs to be repeated dozens of times for each paper.

      And that is assuming the university library has a copy on hand.

      • by ledow ( 319597 )

        So is your university paying Google a subscription to do it?

        This is the point. They're not.

    • Good comment and deserves the "insightful" mod. My thoughts are similar, though I'd appeal to first principles:

      The original mission statement was overwhelming, but the original scanning project fit with the idea of all knowledge for everyone. The shite hit the fan when they tried to squeeze PROFITS out of it and their lust for profits conflicted with the vested interests and fantasy profits of the publishers. (Or maybe it wasn't so much the fantasy profits associated with the orphan works as the actual comp

      • by markhb ( 11721 )

        I figured the "don't be evil" thing went away the moment they bought DoubleClick, inventors of the tracking cookie and the prototype of the "evil internet corporation."

      • by Etcetera ( 14711 )

        Just a few examples, but beyond the google I'm especially aware of Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Exxon. Feel free to add your favorite corporate cancer here.

        Exxon? Really? That's fairly retro. Ranting about Standard Oil and, to some extent, Baby Bells that aren't directly involved in cell tracking, seems rather quaint.

        Replace Exxon with Facebook and you've got a far stronger argument. Exxon can charge me for oil and oil products. Facebook has enough privileges on any given smartphone to track me 24 hours a day and manipulate my interaction with most of my friends (while Google controls my interaction with rest of the world).

        Far more important.

        • by shanen ( 462549 )

          The never-ending abrasion of the spirit of trolldom is apparently making my skin too thin and I initially overreacted against your comment when I should have thanked you for reminding me of Facebook. At the time I was composing the comment, I was actually thinking there was another humongous and recent company to mention, but I just couldn't recall Facebook and actually used Exxon as a substitute.

          However I'm also feeling (perhaps again due to the abrasion?) that I should defend the inclusion of "retro" Exxo

  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @11:32AM (#54221993)
    When I worked at the Google IT help desk in 2008, the building next door had all the book scanners. It was supposedly a miserable place to work at, low pay for flipping book pages, a relentless daily quota and a high turnover rate. Makes help desk support look like paradise.
    • Jeeze, no wonder it wasn't a huge success.

      I would have assumed they could done:

      1) Cut off the spine and sheet feed books that were common enough that a copy could be destroyed in the process (or hell, it could have been rebound and resold -- perhaps they could have advanced a technique for unbinding-rebinding, too).

      2) Automate page flipping for books that couldn't be spine-cut or sheet fed. This seems like it would have been a major side benefit of this project, a page flipping book scanner. It would seem

      • 2) Automate page flipping for books that couldn't be spine-cut or sheet fed.

        My understanding of the early book scanners was a chair that the operator sat back in to look at the overhead monitor. One button took a picture of the page, the other button flipped the page. If the book went out of alignment, the operator had to readjust it. The technology may have changed since then, as the human component was a big problem for the program back then.

        http://hackaday.com/2012/11/16/google-books-team-open-sources-their-book-scanner/ [hackaday.com]

      • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @01:03PM (#54222643)

        Google had to to it in the least damaging way possible. It was a necessary condition if they wanted libraries to cooperate.
        Non-library books were processed destructively, by cutting off the spine.

  • Sad thing is if done right Google books could have competed with Goodreads, Amazon, and others making them billions. Just another of googles failures with half assing projects and then pulling the plug. They are adding up.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." - Thomas Edison, on the electric light bulb.
  • I was always of the opinion that Google Books was a rip off of Project Gutenberg.
    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      Project Gutenberg specializes in notable books that are more than three generations old [copyrightalliance.org].

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No. Gutenberg makes text versions of fairly common books. You might think that they're uncommon, but as an academic who specializes in European books of the 15th-17th centuries, I can tell you that Google has found things that are absolutely miraculous. I've seen Google scans of books that exist in only four copies in libraries across Europe. I've seen whole sub-genres of literature that were thought lost suddenly appear on the internet. If you work in early modern literature, especially older forms of

    • Project Gutenberg scans books which are out of copyright, and only famous ones.

      Google Books scans contemporary works. That in itself made it worth doing. Basically if the Library of Congress burned down, there would be millions if not billions of contemporary books and magazines which existed only on the authors' computers, and in printed form on collectors shelves. There would be no central database of these works, much less a searchable one. Regardless of what you think of Google Books or how borin
  • by hackel ( 10452 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @02:42PM (#54223583) Journal

    Google Books always seemed like a great idea, but the idea of the search giant owning all of the data always made me incredibly uncomfortable. This data should be in the public domain. Authors should feel *privileged* to submit their works for inclusion in the database, not fighting it. It seems that, at least recently, Google Books has served primarily as a means to drive book *sales*. That's not an admirable goal. It's time for Google Books to be converted to a community-driven effort, like Wikipedia. Release all the data under a Free database license that ensures the data can not be used commercially and allow the community to help with the effort. This would be an incredible achievement for humanity in general. Oh well, one can dream...

  • Seriously, Google is now becoming a joke very fast and will no doubt follow the typical MBA path to dying off. Worse, they will choose to outsource to India and CHina while ignoring the fact that they are losing their capabilities and sending it to their competitors.
    But, one of the best tools that they had up and coming was the android that was built in swappable parts. that would have allowed for TRUE competition to occur in android phone. Now, Google will see Samsung and CHinese companies build their ow
  • Things like this that are of such cultural significance shouldn't be subject to the vagaries of Wall Street and its hedge-fund douchebros. It should be spun off into a non-profit to which other entities can contribute donations. Google can provide the seed funding and get a nice fat tax write-off.

The Force is what holds everything together. It has its dark side, and it has its light side. It's sort of like cosmic duct tape.