Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Linking to open ebooks v. controlling the user experience

Peter Brantley, Books Working with the Web, O'Reilly Radar, November 5, 2007.  Excerpt:

Almost a year ago, Tim O'Reilly wrote, "Search engines should be switchboards, not repositories" in his blog post, "Book Search should work like Web Search." The premise was that search engines should not duplicate the digital book repositories of publishers or other service providers, but should instead direct traffic to them. As Tim said, "Don't fight the internet." ...

If we compare the services provided by a public domain text between Google and the Open Content Alliance, it is difficult to argue with the proposition that the user experience of OCA's OpenLibrary is superior. Let's take, for example, a copy of Bacon's Novum Organum; OCA's copy is from the University of California Berkeley library, and Google's is from Stanford University's library.

Both OCA and Google permit a download of this public domain work in pdf, and both provide a pleasant online browsing experience. Both render on-screen a raw text version based on the OCR derived from the page image. Nonetheless, even sans consideration of the question of image quality and OCR fidelity, OpenLibrary provides several services that Google does not, including access in multiple formats -- DjVu, FlipBook; B/W and color PDF, as well as text; OCA provides text to speech capability through the FlipBook presentation. OCA also incorporates notice of critical metadata, including known rights information, on each book's profile page. Finally, OCA permits access to their content in bulk, to the extent their own contracts permit, for purposes of research and education; e.g., for text mining analyses, etc.

I have discussed the online book viewing user experience with Brewster Kahle, and he agrees with Tim O'Reilly: book search should work like web search. A search engine should serve as a switchboard, and not as the sole delivery platform for the content. In other words, a search engine must be an open delivery platform, and not a closed garden. For Google to wear the mantle of open protocols for the social web, but to discard them for books, is a hypocrisy.

OCA is willing, and encourages, Google and others to harvest the metadata and full text of their books through current crawling procedures, as well as nascent protocols (such as BookMap), to facilitate discovery through all search platforms. Some of OCA's contributors have expressly reserved the right to keep Google from re-hosting materials in the Google Book Search application platform, even as they remain fully available to the public at OCA; for these works, the browsing reader must utilize the OCA site.

OCA encourages Google to redirect users back to the OpenLibrary or (whenever possible) other alternative book library interfaces once they have selected an OCA title for browsing. OCA has never mandated the use of any particular book-viewing program; does not surrender control of the user experience to Google; and offers the distinct possibility of delivering a better browsing and library platform than what Google provides through Google Book Search....