Microsoft Checks Out Digital Library

Going where Google has stumbled, Microsoft said this week its MSN Search will include a Book Search tool, beginning with public domain and non-copyrighted materials in beta software, and scheduled for next year.

Microsoft also announced its intention for MSN to join the Open Content Alliance (OCA) to work on scanning and digitizing publicly available print materials, and to work with copyright owners to legally scan protected materials.

Google’s effort to expand its popular Web search to printed materials in digital form has brought a legal storm down on the company by copyright owners — publishers, writers and others — who claim the service represents infringement. The troubles have clearly tempered Microsoft’s approach, which will initially involve books already in the public domain and not protected by copyright.

“The digitized content will primarily be print material that has not been copyrighted, and Microsoft will clearly respect all copyrights and work with each partner providing the information to work out mutually agreeable protections for copyrights.”

Not Google Arrogance

Basex chief analyst and author of Managing the Knowledge Workforce Jonathan Spira pointed out “a lot of things” that are different in MSN’s book search effort compared to Google’s.

Spira told TechNewsWorld that joining the OCA — a group working to digitize the contents of millions of books and put them online while respecting copyright holder rights — marked a significant difference from Google Print, the competitor’s book search.

“OCA is the brainchild of Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, a non-profit that is building a vast digital library,” Spira said. “That is a stark contrast to the arrogance that Google has exhibited, where Eric Schmidt’s arguments can be summarized as, ‘Yes, it’s illegal, but we know better what’s good for you.'”

Successful Search

Spira was critical of Internet searches overall, indicating that nearly half of all searches “fail,” in that knowledge workers do not find what they need.

“In some cases, the knowledge worker doesn’t even realize that the search failed, but uses an incorrect result, taking it to be correct,” he said. “Anything that can improve search will help a range of users, including students, knowledge workers, retirees — the list goes on and on.”

Spira, who indicated that Microsoft will likely succeed with its book search effort, said the strategy may clear the path that Google could not.

“It will prove that what Google set out to do is workable, but by someone else,” he said.

Book Battle and Beyond

Yankee Group senior analyst Laura DiDio said that, although Microsoft will benefit from its competitor’s missteps, Google remains “king of the hill” when it comes to Internet search.

The analyst said the book search announcement serves as a reminder that MSN Search was also a powerful search engine, and is also another example of the industry’s heated battle for Internet users.

“These are very Darwinian times,” she said. “All of the companies are encroaching on each others’ markets.”

Facts of Firsts

IDC analyst Sue Feldman told TechNewsWorld that the OCA route to digitization of published content was the result of years of research at libraries.

“This really grows out of the major digitization experiments the libraries did in the ’90s,” Feldman said.

Although Google’s efforts in book search have been criticized, Feldman argued that it was simply the price the company paid for being first.

“Google tends to barge into things that seem like good ideas and take their lumps because they’re first,” she said, that adding there are always challenges to be faced. “By being first, this sort of happened with desktop search. That’s part of the problem of being first.”

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