Hiding culture: Google Books & Snippets

In May 2006 I was overjoyed with Google books. I retold an anecdote where I was able to find a book after watching a documentary

[It] was mentioned briefly in a documentary tonight and it sparked my curiousity. So I looked for the book, searching the online databases of second hand bookstores. No luck. Then, almost as a joke, I googled it. And there it was on google books. Cool but it was not like I was going to read it online. Then I saw the download button. Within minutes of hearing of the book for the first time I had a pdf of it on my computer – Google books is too cool!

Amazing, fantastic, brilliant… but. There is a tendency to forget that Google is not a neutral infrastructure and therefore has no real desire to preserve and make available books – even when they have scanned them.

Dingodog led me to this problem via the PD-discussion list

Googlebooks has scanned tons of PUBLIC DOMAIN BOOKS, but not all PUBLIC
DOMAIN BOOKS are accessible

there are a tons of PUBLIC DOMAIN BOOKS that Goglebooks non only has
left in snippet view, but that refuses to UNLOCK for full view (and they
are in PUBLIC DOMAIN!!!)

I have a sad story to tell, about these public domain books left in
snippet view:

since 2009 I’m complaining about a same set of PUBLIC DOMAIN BOOKS whose
copyright expired since more than 10-20 years

I sent a mail every month, then every week, and all this during last
three years to report the erroneous classification of public domain
books as snippet view. Now I’m considering to send a mail every day, but
I’m not confident about effects; I think Googlebooks will ignore my
complaints, as it has ignored during these years

it seems, in fact, that Googlebooks has absolutely no will to unlock,
even if user (as I have done) provides well documented biographical info
and cites the laws regulating the status of book in different countries

People complained about public domain books left in snippet view and
googlebooks user forum was full of these complaints with google
employees not only unable to unlock (maybe google not provided this
ability to employees, or it simply ignored requests), but seriously
lacking in knowledge of googlebooks structure

The discussion continues on the list but it is terribly important to know that scanning is not preservation and does not mean access. Additionally when Google makes these choices it is increasingly important to know this.

Another question I find interesting is the question of multiple copies. Will Google care enough to make multiple scanned copies available? Will we be able to see the errors and additions in certain volumes or not?

Sure the originals are still around but the problem is that with the convenience of Google people will forget this and focus on what is available online. Also the availability of Google books will prevent more rigorous projects from being carried out.

Why Google + is doomed

Sorry for the copy paste but I agree with PanGloss that This analysis is so good it’s worth quoting from not just retweeting.

But a social network isn’t a product; it’s a place. Like a bar or a club, a social network needs a critical mass of people to be successful—the more people it attracts, the more people it attracts. Google couldn’t have possibly built every one of Facebook’s features into its new service when it launched, but to make up for its deficits, it ought to have let users experiment more freely with the site. That freewheeling attitude is precisely how Twitter—the only other social network to successfully take on Facebook in the last few years—got so big. When Twitter users invented ways to reply to one another or echo other people’s tweets, the service didn’t stop them—it embraced and extended their creativity. This attitude marked Twitter as a place whose hosts appreciated its users, and that attitude—and all the fun people were having—pushed people to stick with the site despite its many flaws (Twitter’s frequent downtime, for example). Google+, by contrast, never managed to translate its initial surge into lasting enthusiasm. And for that reason, it’s surely doomed.

Government requests to Google

Google has developed a very nice tool to illustrate requests from government agencies to remove content from their services, or provide information about users of our services and products.

Like other technology and communications companies, we regularly receive requests from government agencies around the world to remove content from our services, or provide information about users of our services and products. The map shows the number of requests that we received between July 1, 2009 and December 31, 2009, with certain limitations.

The information is not a perfect of what is happening (see the FAQ for more information) but is a great way of illustrating this issue and provide a starting point for discussion.

Digitalization in the country of 246 cheeses

When it comes to cultural imperialism you can always trust the French to step up to the base and struggle to “save” their language and culture. The New York Times writes that President Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged nearly $1.1 billion toward the computer scanning of French literary works, audiovisual archives and historical documents. The quote says it all

“We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage to the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is,” Mr. Sarkozy said last week, apparently in a reference to Google.

Just got to love their determination and readiness to fight the fight nomatter the odds. Where does this desire to go your own way come from? Its hard to say but it must have something to do with its own self image and internal cultural diversity. Or as President Charles De Gaulle once said

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?

Vive La France!

Google patents its home page

Saw this on Slashdot

A week after new USPTO Director David Kappos pooh-poohed the idea that a lower patent allowance rate equals higher quality, Google was granted a patent on its Home Page. Subject to how the design patent is enforced, Google now owns the idea of having a giant search box in the middle of the page, with two big buttons underneath and several small links nearby. And you doubted Google’s commitment to patent reform, didn’t you?

Seriously!! A patent on a white background and two buttons? Forget that there is nothing innovative and nothing new about it, patenting a web page is counter intuitive. Just goes to show that software patents are become (have already become) a joke. Not very funny though.

Can we save energy through Blackle?

So today I came across the site Blackle -which is basically a black version of Google. Black as in the background is black rather than white. The reasoning for this is found on their about page which states, among other things:

Blackle saves energy because the screen is predominantly black. “Image displayed is primarily a function of the user’s color settings and desktop graphics, as well as the color and size of open application windows; a given monitor requires more power to display a white (or light) screen than a black (or dark) screen.” Roberson et al, 2002

In January 2007 a blog post titled Black Google Would Save 750 Megawatt-hours a Year proposed the theory that a black version of the Google search engine would save a fair bit of energy due to the popularity of the search engine. Since then there has been skepticism about the significance of the energy savings that can be achieved and the cost in terms of readability of black web pages.

So how should we react to things like this? Sure there is a minor saving and Yes a minor saving is not to be ignored. But (you knew that was coming didn’t you?) what is the point of the average wasteful consumer ignoring all other advice and then changing from Google to Blackle?

Taken on a larger level what is the point of minor energy conservation schemes in relation to the damage we are doing? Don’t get me wrong I truely believe in the importance of the accumalitve effect of small savings but in relation to energy and the environment I get the impression we are sometimes creating false feelings of contributing.

What do I mean? Well if the average (whatever that means) wasteful person feels like they are making a contribution to the environment by switching to a black start or search page then the net result saving is infinitesimal BUT the feelgood effect in the wasteful person will allow them to continue with the otherwise wasteful lifestyles and still claim to care and to contribute.

Or maybe I just a Monday morning cynic and this is an important step in awareness and energy savings…

Universities pimp out students

Information and news tends to come from many strange source but I was really surprised to find a nasty piece of news in the Göteborg Uni student newspaper. To put it bluntly Göteborg University has made a series of larger or smaller errors. Some just bad ideas while others really bad ideas.

In order to ensure that all students can be reached and to be able to take full advantage of information technology someone decided to provide all students with “official” emails ending with @student.gu.se – on the face of it this may seem like a good idea but I really have no idea why. It would have been better to allow/demand/require all students to register an email address but I don’t want to get into that part right now.

The second mistake was to decide to manage the email system themselves. Which resulted in a couple of years of mismanagement, a lot of frustration and a final collapse of the whole system. Ok, so I am exaggerating it was not a collapse but basically the university admitted defeat – and it is here where the local student newspaper comes in – and have handed the administration of the email to Google.

Now this is a development which has been happening without much fuss all over the world Trinity College Dublin, Arizona State University and Linköping University (another Swede) but it kind of hits me square in the nuts when my home university adopts the scheme.

So why does it bother me that Google has taken over student email at Göteborg Uni? Why does it seem that I am the only one who is bothered by what is supposed to be a comforting fact that the students will still have @student.gu.se as their mail?

What really bugs me is that the university has basically sold its students. Not only that, but the university is a public authority and as such should not be promoting a private company in this way. The University of Gothenburg has approximatly 50,000 students (25 000 full-time students) and 5,000 employees.  This public authority is then used to demand of it’s 50 000 clients that they must become reliant on a private company.

As if this wasn’t enough the recent Swedish FRA law allows surveillance of all communications that pass through Sweden. Since Google’s servers are outside Sweden this means that all the students email will be under surveillance.

This is wrong in so many ways but nobody seems to be reacting to the fact that univesities are pimping out their students for the sake of technical simplicity – when this is not necessary!

You didn't check the EULA ?!?!?!

Google’s new browser Chrome is receiving a lot of attention lately. I was not really wowed but did actually jump when I read the Google Chrome EULA. This of course goes to show that I am not totally jaded – yet!

11. Content licence from you

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights that you already hold in Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services. By submitting, posting or displaying the content, you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms
of those Services.

Obviously the text formatting to bold was added by me.

It is totally amazing what companies are prepared to demand in their EULAs. Why don’t they even demand use of any/all physical material you may have lying about on your desk while you use their browser?


The license now reads

11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights that you already hold in Content that you submit, post or display on or through the Services.

The text remains in the old version in Swedish but I guess that this will be changed soon. It was more a question of Google’s lawyers not reading the EULA but being a bit too quick on the old cut & paste 🙂