Google has claimed “organizing the world’s information” as its corporate mission, but the current incarnation of Google Print looks more like an effort to monetize that information. With not too much fanfare, yesterday Google announced they were launching the beta version of Google print, based mostly on public domain works to avoid some of the copyright controversy that has marked the announcement of the service. (Marcus Troiano makes the point that even though Print is probably a copyright violation, it deserves to live.)
I ran a brief test of the service with a few searches for a long-dead nineteenth century author. To my surprise, my search results were dominated by recent (and copyrighted) translations, with no public domain content in sight. Furthermore, my ability to view this content was quite limited – one could see the table of contents and a few other non-content pages, but to actually view a page of content a Google login was required.
Ever-present, though, were links to purchase the book and/or Adwords ads. Now, I don’t see anything wrong with Google placing ads off to the side of the content I’m searching for… something has to pay for the digitization effort, right? Nevertheless, finding the results dominated by content I couldn’t view without logging in (or purchasing the product) was a bit off-putting.
If Google News delivered only links to login-required and paid subscription sites, most visitors would be dissatisfied. In this early beta, unfortunately, that seems to be what Google is doing with Print. We can only hope that as the digitization project continues and the search algorithm is improved that Google Print produces meatier results that are viewable in their entirety and thus useful to the researcher.