12 September 2007

Like LibraryThing? Yeah, Google did too...

It's no secret that Google has been under some intense scrutiny for some time in regards to their Google Library project. The main issue that has authors, publishers, librarians, and book store owners up in arms is how what Google is doing by scanning works and making them searchable and accessible relates to copyright law. But Google isn't waiting for any decision from any authoritative body. In fact, many university libraries, and at least six of the world's leading research libraries have teamed up with Google for this project. Right, wrong, or indifferent, it doesn't seem like anything short of an injunction will stop Google from plugging along with the project.

For a remarkable analysis of the Google Library Project, see Jonathan Band's paper, "The Google Library Project: Both Sides of the Story." (HTML version: PDF version)

But this entry isn't to rehash an argument that many others are already having. While searching for updates on the project, I came across a short article in Publisher's Weekly by Calvin Reed entitled, "Google Adds 'My Library' to Book Search" (Publishers Weekly, 9/10/07). According to the Reed article, users will be able to create a "library" online of their favorite books, add their own reviews, add books by both search functions and ISBN numbers, and can share their "libraries" with others. I know what you're thinking...

"But wait. Isn't there already a site that does that? Isn't that called LibraryThing.com? Isn't that the widget on the right hand side of your page that updates us on all the books in your catalogued library?"

Why yes. And yes, it is.

Part of the beauty of LibraryThing.com is its Cinderella Story success and the passionate people who populate the site. Readers, writers, reviewers (of all skill level and seriousness), bibliophiles, librarians--everyone you meet there loves books in one way or another. It was novel when the site launched, and it remains so with every update and addition. But LibraryThing remains connected to the devoted users of their site with updates from the creators, blogs, and a genuine presence of the owners and creators not only on the home pages, but in the discussion areas and even, perhaps, in your personal library--something a Megacompany rarely can accomplish.

And now, once again, Google has zeroed in on something that has gained a large and motivated following, and they created their own version of something already in existence, with--in my opinion--the desire to take the best of what LibraryThing has and copy it, the worst, and improve on it, and then take the whole concept just one step further. Should you activate the "My Library" section of your Google account (of which Blogger is a part), and should you add your books to this feature, you will notice the "passages" feature. Click this feature and your book will highlight passages that have been quoted in other books.

Perhaps this is fun in theory. Perhaps someone, somewhere, thought this might be helpful to someone, and it very well may be, but what is one to do with Shakespeare's works, The Declaration of Independence, and dare I say, the Bible? How, other than a fleeting moment of "ah, that's interesting," can this be useful?

What it boils down to is offering LibraryThing users something (rather, two somethings, as you cannot search the books you have uploaded) that LT doesn't have in the hopes that users will be drawn to bells and whistles that do nothing, in the end, but make a bunch of noise. And I don't believe that any variation of "there's enough Internet space for all to coexist happily" is called for. Google is free. Period. Well, for now at least. Should they start charging for all of the various services that people have come to depend on in their daily lives, it will be a dark day on the Internet. True, LibraryThing only charges for users who wish to add more than 200 books to their library, and even a lifetime membership is $25 for an unlimited amount of books, $10 per year otherwise, but free is free. Sometimes that's all people see.

I hope those of you who have memberships to LibraryThing will continue to support their site, your personal library, and their efforts. I hope that the personalization of your experience makes the difference. I hope that, for once, the mom and pop start up can outlast the corporation looming in the shadows.

~Dawn Papuga

1 Comment:

lindsey@librarything.com said...

Hello hello,

I saw your blog post while I was doing a Google Blog Search, and I quote you on the buzz page - hope you don't mind. If you object for any reason, I'll remove the blurb.

But I think I've seen other comments from your blog before - way to keep us rich in LibraryThing love. {smiles}

- Lindsey