[ Issue 47 ]

Emily Bronto is definitely one of Google’s many fans

It’s no wonder that Bikwil makes a song and dance about Google


In the Web Line column for Issue 47 Tony Rogers looks at a couple of new ventures initiated by Internet search company Google.

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Web Line — Tony Rogers


There’s no stopping Google, is there?

In 2004, for example, in addition to Google’s launch on the stock market, there came two major announcements from everyone’s favourite search engine.

First let’s look at Google Scholar, a new way of searching for those on the prowl for information of an academic nature. Google describes it (Nov. 18) as follows:

Google Scholar enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.

Just as with Google Web Search, Google Scholar orders your search results by how relevant they are to your query, so the most useful references should appear at the top of the page. This relevance ranking takes into account the full text of each article as well as the article's author, the publication in which the article appeared and how often it has been cited in scholarly literature. Google Scholar also automatically analyzes and extracts citations and presents them as separate results, even if the documents they refer to are not online. This means your search results may include citations of older works and seminal articles that appear only in books or other offline publications.

This service is not yet in full production, but response from university circles and the like during its beta testing stage has been positive.

From what I’ve seen, however, by Google standards the coverage is quite modest so far. On the other hand, it’s early days: let’s wait and see. No doubt they’re working hard to improve the product and extend its coverage.

Google’s other recent press release (Dec. 14) also has a strong connection with academe — and an overwhelmingly flimsier one with Bikwil. Had they been really as omniscient as we’ve come to expect, those Google people might have appreciated that their announcement harks back to something we published here, exactly six years ago this month:

The decades-old dream of access to the world’s library catalogues from home is now surely, but slowly, coming true.

I emphasised at the time that this promising message referred

. . . to catalogues, not to the collections that catalogues describe and index. That was the other dream: to do away with books, and is quite a separate issue, the less said about which the better.

Well, guess what? Google doesn’t see it that way.

Not that it wants to wipe out the printed book. It just envisages a future when you won’t have to deny yourself access to a particular book or periodical because you can’t physically get to the sole library that houses it.

And the way it intends to achieve this is through a very ambitious scanning effort. On the initial project Google is working with Harvard, Stanford, the Universities of Michigan and Oxford and the New York Public Library to digitize tens of thousands of pages a day at each library.

As the press release says,

[Google] over time will integrate this content into the Google index, to make it searchable for users worldwide.

Some of the librarians involved expect that the pilot project will take ten years or more. And that’s just for starters.

On the not inconsequential matter of copyright, Google will set your mind at rest when you read

Both parties will work conservatively within the laws . . . For copyrighted works, Google [will] scan in the entire text, but make only short excerpts available online.

For works in the public domain the full text will be available online.

Great care will be taken with the books, though Google executives aren’t saying much what exactly the scanning technology will entail.

Contrary to the views of some sceptics, the five libraries were not reluctant when Google approached them to collaborate. Keen, more like it. For example, a librarian at the Uni of Michigan, John Wilkin, had this to say:

Some people will worry that this is the beginning of the end of libraries, but it is [what] we have to do to revitalise the profession and make it more meaningful.

Even so, there is lingering unease. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Google’s venture

. . . could herald the beginning of the commercialization of libraries, which have long been trusted as an independent resource for knowledge without the obvious trappings of marketing or goals of profit.

Of course, this Virtual Library undertaking of Google’s is hardly unique. You’ll be quite familiar with the work of Project Gutenberg (here and here), in all its manifestations. And there are other similar Internet projects running, many of them under the auspices of non-profit organisations. These include the Internet Archive and the University of Pennsylvania’s Online Books Page.

Additionally, the Library of Congress has had for a while now an agreement with The Internet Archive and libraries in the U.S. and overseas to create an Internet digital archive of one million books.

By the way, its public float on the stock market earlier in 2004 naturally brought Google a gigantic funds increase, and at the time people began to wonder why the company had chosen to spend a lot of it on increasing its disk storage and processing power from a mere 10,000 linked servers to something like 80,000.

Now they know.

In fact, I read somewhere that in toto they’ve spent in the region of $250 million on computer hardware.

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