Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Big Bad Google?

A coworker sent the office a link to this NYRB article, Google & the Future of Books, which I read in print yesterday (maybe a touch of Luddism, but I just love sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop with a copy of NYRB in hand). This part just annoyed me. Speaking of the recent settlement over the mass digitization project and copyright complaints, Darnton states:

"Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly--a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information."

That's just wrong. Google has no such thing. Google offers me nothing that I can't find in other ways, if I'm willing to give up the convenience that Google offers me. I could use Yahoo or any of a bunch of search engines for searching the internet; I can use MapQuest instead of Google Maps; I can find all the information available on Google Earth, although perhaps not aggregated so conveniently.

All those digitized books? I can already get all of that content, just not conveniently (hundreds of ILL requests, maybe? Big travel budget?). Google doesn't control that information any more than Ford controls my ability to travel; they just make it a lot easier to get what or where I want. It's so easy to find information nowadays, but that's something new under the sun. If only one company can offer us that new thing just now, it shouldn't be treated as if we were having something taken away from us.


James Hanley said...

Good post. Correct on every point. I'd just add that google doesn't even own the map data--if you pull up a googlemap and look at the bottom, you'll see the real source, which is in fact the same as the source of most of mapquest's data.

Scott Hanley said...

I think I intended to make a similar point, which somehow got lost in the editing. Google is aggregating other people's data, which is how they're adding value. It's also how they keep running into these copyright disputes.