Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Mother of All Libraries...

Google, in their corporate drive to avoid being evil, is instead scanning and digitizing all the books in the world. Yep, all of 'em.

Google intends to scan every book ever published, and to make the full texts searchable, in the same way that Web sites can be searched on the company’s engine at At the books site, which is up and running in a beta (or testing) version, at, you can enter a word or phrase—say, Ahab and whale—and the search returns a list of works in which the terms appear, in this case nearly eight hundred titles, including numerous editions of Herman Melville’s novel. Clicking on “Moby-Dick, or The Whale” calls up Chapter 28, in which Ahab is introduced. You can scroll through the chapter, search for other terms that appear in the book, and compare it with other editions. Google won’t say how many books are in its database, but the site’s value as a research tool is apparent; on it you can find a history of Urdu newspapers, an 1892 edition of Jane Austen’s letters, several guides to writing haiku, and a Harvard alumni directory from 1919.

No one really knows how many books there are. The most volumes listed in any catalogue is thirty-two million, the number in WorldCat, a database of titles from more than twenty-five thousand libraries around the world. Google aims to scan at least that many. “We think that we can do it all inside of ten years,” Marissa Mayer, a vice-president at Google who is in charge of the books project, said recently, at the company’s headquarters, in Mountain View, California. “It’s mind-boggling to me, how close it is. I think of Google Books as our moon shot.”

I think that analogy is wonderfully apt. Going to the moon had enormous unpredicted benefits, and the Google library will do the same. What might this mean?
  • A decrease in duplicative work, as well as plagiarism. Like grad students looking for a topic for their research thesis, authors will be challenged come up with something that has not been done to death already.
  • Periodic revivals in the popularity of old authors. When long-out-of print volumes are not hard to access, everyone can rediscover great writing from the past.
  • More difficulty in public lying. As candidates are now aware, every utterance can be recorded, and researched for the slightest variance from the truth, opening them to vitriolic attacks from opponents.
  • A new appreciation for true creativity. Innovative thinking will be provable, not just apparent, since a search for the same concept can be done rapidly.
I actually think this could revive the mordant publishing industry. Either that, or finish it off, as people finally start reading everything via some electronic media.

As for me I better get my brilliant new novel into a publisher before somebody else can think of the same thing.

It's about this young farmer who finds a "Ring of Power" and takes it with him to a magical agronomy school, where he discovers an ongoing struggle between good and subsidies. He and his valiant companions have fantastic adventures aboard the spaceship "Entrepreneur" until unraveling a sinister plot involving the painting "American Gothic" which when seen in a certain light reveals most Iowans are really descended from aliens. [Hint, look a the guy and then check out the Roswell dudes].

Then things get complicated...

It will have lots of computer violence and just the right amount of naughtiness, but no strong language.

I'm thinking 14 volumes or so. These ideas just come to me. It's a gift.


brian said...


Have you ever gone to see Grant Wood's American Gothic in person? It hangs in the Chicago Art Institute (just up the street from the site of the Top Producer seminar.) I felt as if I had experienced a revelation when I saw it in person, because it struck me as so different than umptyleven reproductions I had seen in the media.


John Phipps said...


Yup - although it is not my favorite. You might enjoy a book I reviewed in TP (Feb 2006): American Gothic by Steven Biel.

The story behind the painting is now what I think of when I see it.