John C. Abell

The Catch-22 of Google Books

Mar 28, 2011 12:08 UTC

booksIt’s almost a Zen Koan: How many books does a library make?

For Google the answer is: “All of them.”

As of last August that particular number was about 129 million, and since then probably tens of thousands have been added to the world’s shelves, even if you exclude Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s A Shore Thing.

Some tiny fraction of that immense number is good enough for nearly every library in the world, be it the Library of Congress, the world’s largest, or modest locations which are no less devoted to the preservation and dispensation of the world’s collected knowledge.

For Google, though, it’s all or nothing: The Google Books Project — “one company’s audacious attempt to create the largest and most comprehensive library in the history of the world” as wired.com correspondent Ryan Singel put it — began nearly a decade ago.

The initiative has seen its up and downs over the years. But it hit a serious roadblock last week when a judge ruled that a difficultly-forged agreement among Google, authors and publishers was simply unfair to a particular class of writers: those who cannot not be located to be given the opportunity to choose to allow their copyrighted works be included in the project.

As luck would have it, these so-called orphan works represent a significant portion of the world’s collected knowledge. Google hasn’t said how many it thinks there are, but one academic believes it might total 70 percent — some 90 million works.

The web isn’t dead: Newspaper edition

Mar 21, 2011 14:21 UTC


For all the talk about whether apps could be the salvation for newspapers, one little question has been glossed over: Are apps actually a disservice to readers of what, for lack of a better description, we still call newspapers?

The key advantage of the internet over radio or TV is immediacy. Stories fly straight from pocket-sized devices to a great discussion in the sky with no friction being heard. Short bursts of information — as much or even less data than traders on the exchange floor use to make snap, million-dollar decisions — are what drive the conversation now.

Newspapers all have, or could have, vibrant web sites. Web sites are exciting because they are immediate, hamstrung only by the stupidity of servers, how much traffic they can handle and how fast the Internet is working today. You share a story, and BOOM, there it is: Waiting to be discovered by random travelers, spotlighted by RSS, Tweets, Facebook updates and shared by a geometrical progression of friends you didn’t know you had.

Hey NPR: Leave the money, and run

Mar 14, 2011 15:25 UTC


The psychologists will tell you: Don’t try to interpret every little thing. Examine your collective behaviors to see what outcome you’ve engineered through a series of seemingly unrelated acts, including some which seem entirely self-destructive.

Which brings me to NPR.

With the messy firing of commentator Juan Williams last October and this past week’s even messier video uproar, NPR seems to be screaming to re-invent itself.

It should.

Full disclosure: I am a donor to National Public Radio, and while that has not always been the case I must also say that non-commercial programming has provided me with some of the most memorable experiences I have ever had. This force is vital to the broadcast eco-system in the way that pay TV has both pushed boundaries and influenced its predecessors.

Staving off the search war apocalypse

Mar 7, 2011 16:27 UTC


Think the search engine wars are over? They’ve only just begun.

The fight isn’t over who’s the most popular anymore. Google has that sown up for now with a nearly 90 percent share, according to what StatCounter published last week. Microsoft’s Bing Yahoo account for an anemic 8 percent worldwide.

The battle isn’t for the hearts and minds of the public; It is for the heart and soul of the internet — a battle to put “content farms” in their place and suffocate sites which, due to creative SEO, somehow manage to appear higher in search results than the original sites whose content they are re-blogging or flat-out stealing.

The sanctity of search is critical because search is the entry point for the internet, the gateway to everything you haven’t bookmarked or that hasn’t been recommended to you. And since it is the 800-pound gorilla, if Google’s results are compromised, everyone loses.