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Microsoft Announces MSN Book Search; Joins Open Content Alliance

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Microsoft, yes good old Gates, Ballmer and crew, are getting in on the online books digitization game and more. I can't say that I'm totally surprised. When Google first announced Google Print and then expanded the program to Google Print for Libraries last December, I wondered if/when Microsoft would get in on the book digitization act. Well, today is the day. Here are a few facts that I just learned via a news release and a call with Microsoft's GM of Search Content Acquisitions, Danielle Tiedt.

Here Comes MSN Book Search
MSN will launch MSN Book Search (MSNBS) sometime in first half of 2006. In the early stages, MSNBS will be found as a separate vertical on the MSN Search page (just like Image, News, etc.) but eventually MSN hopes to include book results in web results pages.

The material that MSNBS will come from the Open Content Alliance (OCA) that Microsoft is formally joining today.

Yahoo and others are also part of the OCA. A few weeks ago, OCA's man in charge, Brewster Kahle, asked for more in the participation in the alliance and it looks like he got some from a heavy hitter.

As expected, the first materials that will be available via MSN Book Search will be content in the public domain coming via the OCA database.

According to Tiedt, Microsoft has currently committed to fund the scanning of 150K books. In the case of these books (public domain content), Microsoft is making deals on their own with libraries (we don't know which ones) who will provide the content. Then, some (but not all of this material, depending on the library and the actual content) will be available as part of the OCA database. Every library that provides a copy of the book for scanning will also recieve a file for local use.

The Internet Archive will handle all of the scanning for the entire project. In terms of who hosts what, those details need to be worked out between MSN, Yahoo and likely others. Remember, as was noted in my article a few weeks ago:

The OCA project differs from other digitization projects in that the database of scanned material will be available for anyone to use on any site. Yes, it's an open access database! You could even create a focused database (let's say one on American literature) and use it on your own web site.

Other Libraries and More Content
OK, that's the public domain OCA stuff but MSN's plans are wider ranging. As noted earlier, Microsoft also wants to scan the full text of in-copyright books (a list of participating libraries is not available) and make it available online. Sound familiar? Looks like some direct competition for Google Print. Btw, this initiative goes beyond books and MSN also has plans for content from academic publishers, periodicals, aggregators, etc. Of course, getting the right business model in place and getting players to agree will be a challenge. Yes, in this case it looks like some competition for Google Scholar and the Yahoo Subscriptions program.

Making everyone happy and then keeping them happy is going to be a very tough job. Tiedt suggested that business models for access to in-copyright content that might be considered include pay-per-page, pay-per-chapter, monthly subscriptions, etc. We'll just have to wait and see.

One thing I hope MSN does (that Google is already doing and doing well) is working with libraries (of all types), who are already paying (via institutional subscriptions) for access to massive amounts of articles, etc. and then make them available (for free via MSNBS) to anyone with access to that specific library usually using a library card.

Of course, LOTS of details, both practical and legal need to be worked out but Tiedt told me to begin looking for this type of content in the MSN Book Search database in the second-half of 2006.

Both during my phone conversation and the text of the news release itself make special note of copyright issues:

Microsoft will clearly respect all copyrights and work with each partner providing the information to work out mutually agreeable protections for copyrights.

Again, we'll see.

Additionally, my phone conversation and the news release also place a great deal of attention on the usability of the material accessed via MSN Book Search.

"We look to combine a powerful book search experience with our deep software investments in advanced reading technologies, productivity and community based applications such as MSN Messenger, and new capabilities in the Windows platform to help people access precisely the information they are looking for wherever they are in the world."

That paragraph will sure open a nice size box of speculation. Will the new MS operating system include built-in tools to make book content easier to find and utilize? I also find the comment about sharing material via MSN Messenger very interesting since MSN and Yahoo just announced an agreement that will allow both IM systems to talk to each other. So, in just a few weeks we see MSN and Yahoo both getting involved in both the Open Content Alliance and in the IM game. Interesting. The question for me is what type of usability? Copy and paste? Copy into an IM message? Annotate? Print? Save? I hope so. Howerver, these are all questions for the future.

Bottom Lines

  • Let's watch and see what Google has to say.

  • It will also be interesting to see how this plan (particulary for in-copyright material) goes over with the publishing community. They've already seem warm to the OCA project but will in get the same response Google Print (for Libraries) has received recently?

  • I've said time and time again that Google Print and now MSN Book Search just a few of the large book digitization players. Companies like ebrary (some awesome content and software) and NetLibrary are also in the game.

Of course, Project Gutenberg has been digitizing books since 1973.

Postscript: While Microsoft and the OCA were being discussed in San Francisco, Google Print was the topic of the night at the Internet Librarian conferences. Paula Hane has more.

Postscript 2: The Open Library
"...check out OpenLibrary.org for a cool bookviewer and the vision book-- it tells the story of what we envision." --Brewster Kahle

See Also: Microsoft to offer book search (via News.com)


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