Kevin Kelly has written up a fascinating piece for the NY Times Magazine about issues involved in various book scanning projects. While it covers some ground that's been covered before, where it shines is not in focusing on the legal dispute and issues of copyright, but in what such a massive online database of books could mean. When it comes to revolutionary applications of technology, it's never about simply shifting something that could be done one way so it could be done another way, but in creating the ability to do something that could never be done before. Kelly explains how the power of the online searchable database of books isn't just in putting the books online, but adding the features of the online world to books. That includes being able to link and annotate books. More importantly, it includes the ability to break up books, and mix and match them to create your own personal library -- that could include just fragments and chunks of various books, linked to other sources and annotated with your own notes or the notes of others. It's a powerful possible future -- but, as Kelly notes, is pretty much hung up by an incumbent publishing industry that doesn't want to let go of its existing business model, even if the potential business models in such a world could be even greater. The entire (long) article is worth a read not just for the views on the legality of scanning books, and the economics of the business model clashes involved -- but also to get you thinking about the possibilities for such an online library that go well beyond just taking the books that were offline and putting them online.
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