Tim O’Reilly, who has been a stalwart defender of the Google Book Search project, has picked up on some criticisms of the balkanised searching landscape which is where various Book Search projects are headed. It is the isolation of these privately scanned book-content ‘silos’ that is getting troublesome to web idealists. Tim O’Reilly has a particularly clever but obvious solution which should win acceptance with book and magazine publishers:

Book search engines ought to search publishers’ content repositories, rather than trying to create their own repository for works that are already in electronic format. Search engines should be switchboards, not repositories.

The really strong point about this suggestion is that its exactly what publishers should be doing in response to what they perceive as the Google threat. A groundswell of publishers doing this well, would promptly cut the ‘public interest’ ground from under Google’s feet in the lawsuit with American publishers. O’Reilly is a wily political animal and a publisher. So, maybe, big publishers will listen to his proposal and if they were to do it they would soon start exercising some reponsibility for issues which they have been very slow to grasp: like how to keep and maintain adequate archival versions of the books they publish, in electronic form. His other positive suggestions are also good. Read them in context.

Some comments from Brewster Kahle in reply to Tim’s posting are astringent:

Bringing google back into the web-oriented world takes a decision at the top of the organization, but I hope they change course because we have seen the permission-based / licensing-heavy movie before. It tends towards lock-out, monopolies, and holiday bonuses for lawyers.

Brewster Kahle is a an all round web hero, only one rung down from Tim Berners Lee in the pantheon of web all stars, so perhaps Google will listen to his counsel.

We’re all for fighting the “search silos” and would be more than happy for search engines to index the contents of our sample issues. In fact, Microsoft’s Live service does so already:

Sample search on Microsoft Live for a phrase in magazine copy

but the trick is getting Google to do the same without convincing them we’re engaged in shady SEO activity.