Friday, January 08, 2010

Book 'Em Dan-O

The scholarly debate over the Google Book Search initiative is now heating up among historians, according to "Historians Throw the Book(s) at Google." At the annual meeting of the American Historical Association annual conference, Center for History and New Media head Dan Cohen asked "Is Google Good for History?" and responded with a tentative affirmation. However, he also bemoaned the Mountain View company's lack of openness and transparency and what that might mean for the sustainability of those resources.

One interesting aspect of Cohen's argument is that he did not get into the debate of the quality of Google's quick-and-dirty approach to digitization, even though his blog achieved fame for publishing this scan of a hand inappropriately present in the scan of a page of a Plato book. (Readers of the Virtualpolitik book know that I write about these images of hands and the manual labor that arises as a kind of return of the repressed.)

Let’s discuss the quality issues for a moment, since it is one point of obsession within the academy, an obsession I feel is slightly misplaced. Of course Google has some poor scans—as the saying goes, haste makes waste—but I’ve yet to see a scientific survey of the overall percentage of pages that are unreadable or missing . . . Moreover, Google likely has remedies for many of these inadequacies. Google is constantly improving its OCR and metadata correction capabilities, often in clever ways.

In contrast, Paul Deguid offered a much harsher assessment that Google was "naive" going into the project and is guilty of "lying" about its search totals.

Interesting that there was relatively little talk about Google at digital humanities panels at the MLA.

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