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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Project Gutenberg Founder on Google Book Search

The Wall Street Journal interviewed Michael Hart of the Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg is an effort to transcribe literary works which passed into the public domain to make them available for free online. Project Gutenberg was available long before Google Book Search (the former Google Print, or Project Ocean), and in the beginning didn’t use scanners at all but manually typed in all texts from the books in grassroots fashion with many volunteers. Michael says that about a year before announcing their Google Print, Google invited him to have a discussion, but were very business-oriented at that time... and soon, didn’t really want to continue the discussion and went to release Google Print on their own. Michael says, “It’s not that we don’t want to work with them. Google didn’t want to have anything to do with us. They want to do their own project. All of these places can legally use all of our books. If Google put up all of our books, that would be fine. I would have gladly worked with Google.”

Is Michael afraid that Google Book Search would doom Project Gutenberg? Well, as opposed to Google’s service, Project Gutenberg offers full texts to be easily copied. Google so far lets you browse through single pages, but no more than three per book – even for works that passed into the public domain, like Alice in Wonderland (one of Michael’s favorite books). Michael says that every year people tell him Project Gutenberg’s not going to be there next year... and that every year, he gets to say, “Ha ha. Gotcha. You want to bet me on it next year?”

Also see my Authorama, which converts the ASCII texts found at Project Gutenberg into accessible XHTML.


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