Wednesday, May 17

The Universal Library Project

If the library of Alexandria once held all the written knowledge of its time, then Google wants to digitize the books and share them online. The Universal Library is a project that aims to ensure that no book is an island:
When books are digitized, reading becomes a community activity. Bookmarks can be shared with fellow readers. Marginalia can be broadcast. Bibliographies swapped. You might get an alert that your friend Carl has annotated a favorite book of yours. A moment later, his links are yours. In a curious way, the universal library becomes one very, very, very large single text: the world's only book.
This is just one example of how search engines like Google are transforming our culture. Web pages are essentially powered by links and tags, which the article's author Kevin Kelly named as two of the greatest innovations to have come out of the web. Links and tags embody what the web is all about--the power of relationships, the common people indexing and classifying information for others just like them. Folksonomy, Thomas Vander Wal calls it.

This is information democratized. It's a good thing, if this Universal Library is ever finished. Though Google has good intentions (and perhaps there'll be profit from this, who knows), the battle for copyright ownership has also started. Only 15% of all books belong to the public domain, and the rest are copyrighted and would thus demand royalties if you place them in a searchable index accessible to all. What will be really sad is if this Universal Library will turn out to be empty, if no one will agree to put virtual copies of their books out there, for the modistas of Maguindanao and the scraggly kids of Uzbekistan.

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