Imagine tomorrow morning you go to the library to find some information you need for a report you’re writing. In a bizarre turn of events, the library catalog has been burnt and all the books have been de-alphabetized. Apparently, one of the librarians went off the deep end and arranged everything in a way that only they could decipher.
Maybe this librarian has a political agenda, maybe a religious agenda, maybe a personal agenda, maybe no agenda at all – maybe they were just looking for greater job security in a down economy. Whatever the case, if you want to get to the information you need, you have no choice but to go through this librarian. You know that contained under that library roof, there is an overwhelming amount of knowledge and information. You also know that there is only ONE way to cut through all the irrelevant information to find those few ripe nuggets of data you need to finish your report.
Now imagine this is the ONLY library in the world.
Now imagine there are no books or shelves, only IP addresses.
Now imagine the librarian is not a person at all – it is a search engine.
Back in November, our resident blog specialist, Amanda Moshier, discussed Google’s $125 million settlement with the Authors Guild and AAP. Apparently, the internet’s favorite search engine librarian was able to convince their accusers and a US District Court that it’s a good idea to let them publish snippets and, in many cases (try 7 million), full-text of books both in and out of print and copyright. In the short term this may “promote” the purchase and reading of these works, but what happens when all books move out of print and online? Then Google’s got it all. It’s only a matter of time until the Go Green sloganeering fixes its sights on the printed word – it takes a lot of paper to print a book. I bet someone could make a sweet recycled grocery bag out of old trashy romance novels.
Just last week, Amanda reported the latest legal battle waged against Google. This time the plaintiff is Big Media. Apparently, the old print media mainstays like the New York Times are bitter about their fall from grace as more news-hungry citizens look online for their information and paperboys nationwide lock up their bicycles. These pedigreed heirs to the information industry demand to know why Google won’t rank their pages above the mess of blogs, myspace pages, and wikipedia entries. Honestly, I’m curious about the same thing. Perhaps that sneaky librarian does have some agenda after all!
Of course, this all boils down to a question of responsibility. The library is a public entity, which carries a lot of responsibility in a free society. On the other hand, although its shares are publicly traded, Google is not a government organization (as far as we know…wink wink). As such, it can choose to catalog information as it sees fit.
But honestly, is Google really just a website? It’s easy to get lost trying to distinguish between Google and the internet itself. The site has become the doorway, the portal, the catalog, and the librarian of the entire World Wide Web to the majority of its users. So while this may not be a question of civic duty, there are still antitrust laws to consider. Once the government gets wise to the little librarian’s monopoly on humanity’s greatest resource (that’s “information” or “knowledge” to you, dear reader), it will be interesting to see how the cards fall.