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Check out a book from the Internet Library

“Making up for lost time” and “better late than never” underscore some of Microsoft’s efforts to compete and keep up with Google.    

Given Google’s published mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, efforts to digitize and index vast libraries is a natural way point on their roadmap.   With efforts over the past year Microsoft has been both catching up and making sure that road is at least a two lane highway.

With a deal widely announced in October, Microsoft partnered with high speed scanning service firm Kirtas Technologies to advance its efforts.  Kirtas’ services allow Microsoft scan as many as 2400 pages per hour.  While October is way back on the calendar from the point of breaking news, the deal, and the ongoing arms race between Microsoft and Google to sign up library/content partnerships makes it as timely as ever – and escalating

Microsoft’s Live Book Search Program will directly compete for its share of eyeballs and advertising dollars with Google’s Book Search (previously called Google Print).  
The use of Kirtas’ services will rapidly assist the process of digitizing the libraries of Cornell University, The British Library, The University of Toronto, and the libraries from the University of California – all of which have signed deals to work with Microsoft.

Google, in the meantime, is not idle.  It’s promised more than 7 million searchable titles from libraries which so far include Stanford, U Michigan, Harvard and the NY Public library. 

Today, Google fired a new shot in the battle with an announcement that the University of Texas at Austin had signed on with Google.  According to the announcement, Google will digitize more than 1million titles from the schools library which is notable for its sheer size (5th Largest academic library in the country) and it’s wealth of specialty collections.

Regardless of how fast documents are scanned, litigation previously filed by the Author’s Guild, and complaints by many others, may increase the timeline for delivery from either company.   Microsoft initially verbally assured access to digitized books will conform to domestic and international copyright conventions but given the complexity of those laws, a statement of good intentions seemed insufficient.  In a change of course, Microsoft adjusted its policies and decided that copyrighted material would only be scanned if the rights-holders opted in to the service.   The Google offering, in contrast, scans everything allowing free access to public domain documents and provides limited summaries and background for copyright materials.

Personally, I prefer reading from paper (though I like my news online).  Absent dual monitors or computer screens better optimized for the eyes, pages are easier to turn.  Still, this is one arms race that (whenever it is resolved) stands to benefit end-users.   It think the work of both companies will provide researchers and the curious a wealth of desirable information.  I’m cautiously curious to see how rights management issues are resolved and how the projects take shape – whenever they are finally released in full – but I’m confident those issues will eventually be resolved.

Over the coming year, I expect to see more library and university partnerships announced.  One of the undecided jewels will probably be MIT.  It seems a good fit not only given MIT’s clear technology association, but also in light of their efforts to open source significant portions of their curriculum.

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