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Microsoft Live Search Books Euthanized

digit booksFrom futuristic “Cloud Computing”, to search, from advertising to applications, Microsoft and Google have been battling each other for greater share of Internet audiences and eyeballs for a few years now.  By last June, digitally indexing books looked set to be another one of the fronts in which the companies would face off.   What a difference a year makes.  This week, Microsoft quietly discontinued their Live Book Search project.

In a blog post on May 23rd, Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s VP of Search, Portal and Advertising, made the disclosure.   Both the Live Search Books and Live Search Academics projects websites are due to be powered off within the week.  “Books and scholarly publications will continue to be integrated into our search results but not through separate indexes,” Satya wrote.

The news marks the end of what was at times a potentially interesting and promising project to expand the already monstrous internet data repository. 

Live Search Books was originally launched in 2006 and built out through a partnership with document scanning firm, Kirtas Technologies.  At its peak, Microsoft was able to scan as many as 2400 pages of data per hour.

Throughout 2007, Microsoft and Google seesawed back and forth with dueling press releases to announce new book search content partners.  Microsoft gained the rights to scan the libraries at Cornell University, the University of Toronto, the University of California school system, the British Library.  Google secured the rights to the University of Texas system, Harvard, Stanford, the Big Ten universities, University of Chicago and the New York Public Library.

While competitive, the nature of Microsoft and Google’s efforts was, to a large extent, different.  Microsoft scanned only copyrighted material if rights holders opted in to the service.  Google, truer to their mission of “organizing the world’s information” scanned anything they could but access to full text is controlled.

Explaining the decision, Satya Nadella wrote, “Given the evolution of the web and our strategy, we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer and content partner.” Elaborating further, Satya added “Based on our experience, we foresee the best way for a search engine to make book content available will be by crawling content repositories created by book publishers and libraries.”

The big question was always whether or not audiences would find the book search content valuable and spend the time to interact with it.   Reading between the lines of Microsoft’s announcement, it sounds like Live Search Books was not making money or drawing enough of an audience for Micrsoft to justify another years expense.

Before the decision to pull the plug, Microsoft had already indexed more than 750k books and more that 80 million academic articles.  That material will not be lost.  Microsoft will provide publishers with digital copies of their scanned books.   They are also revoking any contract restrictions that would interfere with the services   The scanning equipment developed jointly with Kirtas will also be made available.


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