RageBoy brought this story to my attention, so hello and thanks to Boulder from Calcutta. Or Windsor, if you prefer.
The story itself was simple: Microsoft had done a deal with a couple of major universities to scan, and make available to all, a vast collection of out-of-copyright material. Given that the universities mentioned were the University of California and the University of Toronto, this could be a major deal. So I started investigating whatever I could find out.
And, almost in passing, I saw the Scoble story, which you can find here, with his comments here. Whatever opinions you may have about Robert Scoble, one thing is not in doubt. He helped change public opinion about Microsoft. Yes there are others: Kim Cameron and Ray Ozzie come immediately to mind, but the Scobleizer was the first to break ranks. In the early days of his blog, I must confess there wasn’t a day when I didn’t say to myself “Go get ’em Floyd” as I read his posts. So thanks and good luck to him, and to PodTech.net, the start-up he’s joining.
Back to the library cards story. It’s a difficult one for me to work out, because we’ve got denials and arguments even before we have clarity on exactly what’s been announced. So I’m going to write on the principles.
A vendor scans a whole pile of out-of-copyright materials and makes them available to the public. Fantastic. This could not have happened unless the “beneficial owner” of those out-of-copyright materials gave permission in the first place. Also fantastic.
What happens next? If someone else does a Google Book Search or an Amazon Look Inside or whatever else they call it, this is good. It’s called competition, should improve quality and reduce cost and make everything more accessible to more people.
So the next things to look at are access and cost. And on the surface everything is copacetic. Works with any browser. No digital walls to be seen anywhere. No implied or explicit costs.
Assuming these things don’t change, and we’re not witnessing some sort of freebie-hook-with-your-life-on-the-other-end-of-the-line, what else do I worry about? Simple. I need to understand the lock-in that doesn’t affect me today, but that will definitely affect me tomorrow.
A silo high-coupling between the browser/portal and the information. I expect to see a world where I can’t get to Google Book search output except via Google, Amazon Look Inside output except via Amazon and Windows Whatever except via Windows.
Today I can use Google to give me Amazon hits.
Tomorrow I need to be able to use Google and Firefox on a linux machine to give me Microsoft-Indexed-Books-Out-Of-Copyright-from-University-of-California. I don’t care how I get to the book, whether I have to click on a Google result to go to a Microsoft site to get it, or other means.
What matters to me is:
(a) no constraint on the browser or OS initiating the search request
(b) no constraint on the search engine initiating the search
(c) no need to provide any further login or identity credentials to get to the material
I am quite willing to credit the donor (University of California, if the story is true) and the scanner/indexer (Microsoft) whenever I use the material, but I want this process simplified as well.
So I look forward to finding out more. My gut feel is less charitable than I sound, even though I’ve tried to read this url on a Mac with Firefox and everything seemed to work.
So I will mull over leopards and spots.