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Microsoft Gives Up on Book Search

Until last week Google had a competitor of sorts on the book scanning front. Now, however, Microsoft has abandoned its role in the book scanning world. One rather disturbing issue is that the service seems like it will go somewhat dark: “[T]he Live Search Books and Live Search Academic projects … will be taken down next week. Books and scholarly publications will continue to be integrated into our Search results, but not through separate indexes.

As the New York Times notes another one major problem with this shift is that it:

leaves the Internet Archive, the nonprofit digital archive that was paid by Microsoft to scan books, looking for new sources of support. Several major libraries said that they had chosen to work with the Internet Archive rather than with Google, because of restrictions Google placed on the use of the new digital files.

Most likely Siva Vaidhyanathan will have more to say on this one. For now given that the Internet Archive has a nice record of defending against over-reaching searches I hope that the Archive continues to receive support.

The reasons behind Microsoft’s decision are difficult to parse. Is it leaving search? Is it focusing on one sector? Why is it trying to buy Yahoo!? Here is what MS said, “Given the evolution of the Web and our strategy, we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer and content partner.”

The once mighty (and let’s face it still rather mighty) MS seems to be lost. It is searching for search and other ways to stay relevant. Whether Google will step in and be better remains to be seen. But on this score, MS seems better at supporting open uses of the digitized books. Having everything now go through Google with its suspect policies is less than ideal. In addition, how MS can fail to figure out a business model with all its talent presents an interesting problem: either MS is weak, bloated and has no vision or Google is wasting money to capture everything it can and then leverage it into an advertising, data mining world. Or more than likely it is a bit of both. MS is in that difficult place large companies are bound to encounter and Google is placing bets that mirror Yahoo! Of seven or eight years ago and will face its obsolescence soon enough.