Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

A Present-Day Library of Alexandria

Tim Wu writes for the New Yorker on the rapidly-stagnating Google Books project:

If Google was, in truth, motivated by the highest ideals of service to the public, then it should have declared the project a non-profit from the beginning, thereby extinguishing any fears that the company wanted to somehow make a profit from other people’s work. Unfortunately, Google made the mistake it often makes, which is to assume that people will trust it just because it’s Google. For their part, authors and publishers, even if they did eventually settle, were difficult and conspiracy-minded, particularly when it came to weighing abstract and mainly worthless rights against the public’s interest in gaining access to obscure works. Finally, the outside critics and the courts were entirely too sanguine about killing, as opposed to improving, a settlement that took so many years to put together, effectively setting the project back a decade if not longer.

When I was in my first or second year of university, I wrote a paper on the Crystal Palace. I needed some contemporaneous accounts of what it was like to be there, and I was unable to find any physical books on the topic. But a quick search of Google Books netted a fairly decent selection of rare, old books that were perfect for the paper. I sincerely hope we’re not entrusting our library of the future to a for-profit company, but I also hope that Google can recover this project.