Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Street Creds: Google's Backing of World Digital Library Clouded by OCA Rhetoric

The Washington Post notes along with other majors the birth of the World Digital Library, an effort led by the Library of Congress with financial backing from Google and in partnership with other national libraries such as those of Russia, Spain, Brazil, France and The Netherlands. The goal is to create a common online repository of public-domain works such as rare books, manuscripts, maps, posters, stamps and other materials collected from around the world. Already Google has helped the Library of Congress to digitize thousands of works, so this is a reminder of sorts to the library community at large that Google is in line with the core mission of archivists worldwide. Yet as pointed out by Danny Sullivan on Search Engine Watch if you'd read The San Francisco Chronicle's article on "A World Library Online" via SFGate today you'd be reading about how Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle is saving the world from the rash plans of Google through the Open Content Alliance initiative. Key quote from the SFGate: "I had a feeling of being back in the early days of open source software -- where everybody was there because they hated Microsoft," said Paul Duguid, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems. "This was the un-Google meeting."

The SFGate article replays the OCA party line about "evil" Google trying to make commercial hay of their scanned content. Yet further down in the piece we learn of Brewster Kahle's Internet Bookmobile machine, a unit which is able to pop out scanned books into very credible print facsimiles of an original. Gee, that doesn't have much commercial potential, does it...? OCA has some great thinkers, some great content and some great goals, but it's time for this "my global vision is more pure than yours" nonsense to come to a halt. OCA members have commerce on their minds just as much as any one else and Google has a genuine interest in making public domain content available to the world as much as OCA members. The only point where OCA winds up being a "kinder and gentler" force is in its being more solicitous of publishers' fears of Google's efforts. Fear-driven marketing generally turns audiences off in the long run, a factor being discovered by Sony BMG in its efforts to introduce spyware into is DRM for audio CDs (eWeek). At some point OCA is going to have to implement support for commercial content as well as public domain content, at which time the true shape of this commercial competition with Google will become more clear. Until then, spin doctors will do what they can to shift the dirt to the other guy.
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