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Today’s Op-Ed Column of NYT features a very long article by Google’s Sergey Brin. And the topic? Something which is close to my heart – the controversial Google Books Project. In case you didn’t know, I’m a librarian by education and profession. But that’s not the point of this post but rather on the many points that Sergey made in his piece. So, let’s get it on.

Why Google is so Interested in Digitizing Out-of-Print Books, According to Sergey?

After opening up his article with a very informative references to some historical data and facts, Sergey proceeded by saying that he would have not known those information if not for the books containing them which are now in public domain. But the problem is the vast majority of books ever written are not accessible to anyone as most of them are buried deep within the shelves of major academic libraries.

It’s good if those libraries were able to preserver and continue to serve those books to users. But what about those libraries housing important old books which were stricken by natural calamities. Most get out-of-print and become difficult to retrieve if not lost or forgotten by the library custodians themselves.

Why is the Google Books Project so Controversial?

In his article, Sergey tried to dispel some allegations thrown at them by the detractors of the Google Books Project. First he said that the Google Books Projects allow copyright holders of the books digitzed by Google to set the pricing and access rights to their work. Hence it’s not a form of compulsory license that Google has all the right. Copyright holders can even withdraw their work from the project anytime they want to.

And of course there were also issue on the quality of Google’s work when it comes to providing the correct bibliographic information, classification system and details of privacy policy. Sergey defended the project by saying the Google is working on those issues, particularly on improving bibliographic information and categorization.

What Did Sergey Missed?  Search Ads

It’s not so often that I read a long article from start to end. Sergey’s article actually made me do it because I was waiting for a mention on how Google is to profit from this endeavor.

Sergey ended his article:

I hope such destruction never happens again, but history would suggest otherwise. More important, even if our cultural heritage stays intact in the world’s foremost libraries, it is effectively lost if no one can access it easily. Many companies, libraries and organizations will play a role in saving and making available the works of the 20th century. Together, authors, publishers and Google are taking just one step toward this goal, but it’s an important step. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

So, any reactions from a a non-librarians point of view?

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Nasa’s Latest Effort To Revive Opportunity Will Likely Be The Last

NASA has begun what is very likely its final attempt to re-establish contact with the Opportunity rover, after a massive Martian dust storm forced the agency to put the 15-year-old robot to sleep. If unsuccessful, this effort will make for a sad finale to the rover, but also cap off one of the greatest Mars missions ever conducted—propelled by technology that’s punched way above its weight.

To recap: a gargantuan dust storm swelled over the red planet last summer, effectively blotting out the sun. NASA chose to move Opportunity, a solar powered rover, into an energy-saving mode, keeping it technically on, but shutting down its scientific operations and most of its instruments. This way, the rover could run enough power to keep its heaters on and protect itself from cold temperatures that could do irreparable harm to its parts. Once the storm abated, the rover could use sunlight to recharge its batteries and come back to life once again.

It didn’t exactly work out this way. The skies cleared up, but Oppy stayed asleep. NASA hasn’t been able to communicate with the rover since June 10 of last year, and the reason isn’t totally clear. John Callas, the project manager for the Opportunity mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained in a press release that the team planned to conduct a “sweep and beep” strategy for contacting the rover, transmitting new commands to Opportunity instead of simply putting an ear out and listening.

There are dozens of potential explanations for Opportunity’s silence. The rover’s solar panels might simply be caked in too much dust to function, or the storm might have broken something vital. Less likely, NASA suspects the primary and secondary X-band radios Opportunity uses to communicate have failed, or that the rover’s internal clock (which orients its “computer brain”) is down. The “sweep and beep” commands could help to reset some of the rover’s internal software and force it to switch to a backup X-band radio or reset the clock.

Unfortunately, the window on re-establishing contact with the rover is almost surely about to close. Here’s the thing: Opportunity has lasted long outlived its initial 90-day mission (it’s been going for 14 years) because Martian winds have periodically cleaned dust off the rover’s solar panels and allowed it to recharge. This was an unexpected boon, but it’s allowed Oppy to survive 55-times its planned lifespan.

Mars is currently in the midst of one of its windy seasons that helps clean the dust out, but that’s quickly coming to an end, and will be followed by a southern winter that’s sure to bring temperatures low enough to cause catastrophic damage to the rover’s unpowered batteries, as well as other internal circuitry. The Martian winter is what killed the Spirit Rover back in 2010.

Even if this is the end of Opportunity, there is no question the mission has been a phenomenal success. Besides the rover’s storied body of observations and scientific data, it’s been a terrific example of the sorts of planetary exploration technologies capable of lasting years and able to withstand extreme environments and climates found on other worlds. The rover’s battery and power system in particular has been a tremendous success story, inspiring the power systems developed for the Curiosity rover and the Mars 2023 rover later on.

We all hope that Opportunity can muster up the willpower to go for another 15 years, but even it’s down for the count, it will have already done more for Mars exploration than we ever anticipated.

Google Project Glass: Siri Or Clippy?

Google Project Glass: Siri or Clippy?

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could” Jeff Goldblum memorably said in Jurassic Park, ”that they didn’t stop to think if they should”; has Google done the same with Project Glass? Initial reactions to the wearable computing concept shown off publicly yesterday were predictably gobsmacked, the eye-catching demo video showing an idealized and alluring view of augmented reality. After the dust has settled, though, comes the question: is Project Glass Google’s Siri, or is it actually more like Microsoft’s ill-fated Clippy?

Some of us were quickly on-board, offering to open up our wallets to whatever Google wanted to take in order to get our hands on the wearable display. Others have been more reserved, wondering whether the AR system can deliver what Google has promised, and if so whether that’s something we’d actually want in our everyday lives.

Tom Scott, for instance, recreated Google’s concept video with a rather more cynical slant (be warned, some moderate profanity in the first couple of seconds), warning of what might happen if our reality gets just too augmented:

More serious, though, are the questions around practicality and privacy: can Google really deliver a user experience anything like its glossy promo, and even if it can, do we really want the search giant piggybacking on our everyday lives even more? Technical details, as we’ve already observed, are in short supply from Google; the slender prototypes in Google’s press shots are described as “design studies” with no indication as to whether the test hardware is anywhere near as minimal.

Practical experience with actual wearable displays from Lumus suggests Google’s UI mockup may not be quite what we can expect from the real deal. Single-eye overlays aren’t the issue – it’s actually relatively straightforward to incorporate extra information from one eye into your overall vision – but the amount of light coming through from the outside environment. That could potentially wash out the sort of pale, detailed graphics Google has shown us; bold strokes and wireframes generally work better.

Google Project Glass concept demo:

It’s speed and accuracy that is prompting the most questions, however. Microsoft’s maligned Clippy incurred the wrath of Office users because most of the time it got it wrong: sluggish, unhelpful and generally annoying, it failed the primary benchmark for a digital assistant, by actually detracting from usability.

In contrast, Apple’s Siri digital personal assistant on the iPhone 4S is useful because – although its palette of commands is relatively small – it generally gets things right. It adds to the usability of the device because it adds a new avenue of interaction, unlike Clippy with its attention-distracting and lackluster functionality.

Google needs to make sure Project Glass reacts swiftly and accurately if it wants users to don specialist eyewear. It also needs to make sure that user-expectations are in line with what’s capable of being delivered – not showing outlandish concepts if the practical implementation is significantly different, something which can turn off even the most enthused of early adopters. Finally, it needs to be upfront about legitimate fears around privacy and data protection, particularly when the reality that’s being augmented consists of plenty of people that haven’t signed up to the Project Glass terms of service.

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Hitwise: Google+ Traffic Dropped Last Week

After weeks of explosive growth, the Google+ social networking site saw its traffic and usage drop last week, according to Hitwise.

For the week ending July 23, Google+ received 1.79 million visits, down 3 percent from the previous week, and the average time spent on the site fell 10 percent to 5 minutes and 15 seconds, Hitwise said Wednesday.

By contrast, visits for the week ending July 16 shot up 283 percent from the week before, and 821 percent from the week before that, Hitwise said last week.

As of July 16, Google+ ranked as the 42nd-most-visited social networking site and the 638th-most-visited site overall in the U.S., Hitwise said last week. Hitwise didn’t update those rankings Wednesday, but given the drop in usage it’s unlikely that Google+ improved its position on either list.

Google+ is in limited beta release, available only by invitation from current members and from Google, which is purposely limiting access to refine the site and fix bugs before opening it up broadly.

However, a drop in activity is never a good sign for a website, especially a social networking site and one whose launch at the end of June was welcomed with such enthusiasm and buzz.

Hitwise didn’t offer an explanation for the drop in Google+’s usage. It’s estimated that about 20 million people have Google+ accounts so far.

One key factor for social networking sites to lure new members and get them to use the site often is to foster sharing and interaction among friends.

With Google+, because of the limited availability, it may be that after checking it out and setting up a basic profile, existing members aren’t finding enough reasons to return because a critical mass of their friends aren’t on it yet.

In the past week or so, Google+ also has weathered a couple of controversies. One centered on Google’s decision that people must use their real name for Google+ accounts, which led the company to delete many profiles. That prompted complaints from members who claimed they used their real name and had their account deleted anyway, and from others who argued they should be able to use a pseudonym to protect their privacy. After the controversy hit a fevered pitch this past weekend, Google pledged to communicate better with affected users and give them a chance to respond before suspending their account.

Another issue revolved around the fact that Google+ only allows profiles for individuals. Many companies have set up business profiles only to see them deleted by Google, triggering more complaints. Google has said that it will allow business profiles within the next few months and that it’s working fast to get the site ready for this.

Google+ is an important initiative for Google. The company has high expectations that the site will finally make it a strong competitor in social networking, where it has struggled to find its footing.

Meanwhile Facebook has become one of the world’s most popular sites, a situation that makes Google nervous because Facebook keeps a lot of its user-generated content off-limits to the Google search engine.

Google trusts that Google+ will prove compelling enough to eventually prompt a massive exodus of Facebook users. In particular, Google believes that Google+ offers privacy and content-sharing features that are better and easier to use than Facebook’s.

Google Chrome Os: Desktop Linux’s Last Chance

“The year of Linux” – For how many years now have we come across this headline, usually prefaced by a bygone year?

It must be for at least ten years. But even now, despite the apparent popularity of distros such as Ubuntu, and even green shoots of interest from big OEMs such as Dell, desktop Linux languishes with a sub 1% market share. And what growth that is occurring happens at a snail’s pace.

Is there any hope that Linux can actually make significant gains and become a credible alternative to Windows and Mac OS X? Well, there is, and help is coming from the Internet’s 1,000-pound gorilla – Google.

Earlier this month Google announced that it was developing a lightweight, open source, Linux-based operating system designed for netbooks. The Chrome OS isn’t expected to be available to consumers until the second half of 2010, but betas should be available for developers to play with much sooner than that.

But why work on an OS? Well, as far as Google is concerned, consumers want computers to get better, and in order for that to happen, there’s a need for a completely new OS build around speed, security, and getting people onto the web with the least fuss possible.

But rather than design a whole new OS from the ground up, Google turned its attention to Linux. After all, why reinvent the wheel? Linux is lightweight, it’s fast and it’s pretty robust when it comes to thwarting hackers.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Google Chrome OS will cause waves. It’s bound to put Microsoft on edge, and if it starts to gain some traction, it’ll undoubtedly make Apple sit up and pay attention, too.

But it’s also an interesting time for the Linux community as a whole. After all, just as Ubuntu has pushed most other distros into the shadows when it comes to media attention, a successful Chrome OS could push Ubuntu into the shadows, while at the same time forcing many other Linux distros into oblivion.

Even if Chrome OS only managed to grab hold of a 0.5 per cent market share in, say, a year, it’ll be in a position where it will command quite a clout. After all, the iPhone OS market share is about 0.6 per cent, and think how much influence it exerts.

And if you think that grabbing a one percent of the browser market is wishful thinking, consider how popular netbooks are right now, and given the tough economic times, how people might not be inclined to hand over $45 for a copy of Windows 7 Starter edition?

Many people feel that the fact that Google’s Chrome browser has failed to ignite much interest beyond geeks means that Chrome OS is destined to go the same way. I disagree.

This makes a free OS far more compelling than a free browser. If you take two identical netbooks on sale, one retailing for $340 running Windows 7 Starter, and the other retailing for $295 and running Google Chrome OS, don’t you think that’s going to grab people’s attention?

But what happens if Chrome OS flops?

Well, Microsoft and Apple get to breathe a sigh of relief because they can continue to squeeze money from their respective cash cows. But it would spell bad news for Linux. If Google can’t make a success of Linux, then it’s easy to conclude that no one could.

A failure on the part of Chrome OS won’t kill off Linux, but it could well put an end of any illusions that Linux is going to make a big hit any time soon.

In fact, a Chrome OS failure could set back Linux a decade. Linux would still have a place of devices, such as cell phones and GPS receivers, but mainstream aspirations would have to be put on hold for some time.

So, Linux has reached an interesting point. If Google’s Chrome OS succeeds, then it changes the whole Linux community in one swoop and risks marginalizing other distros. But if it fails, it’ll be a huge failure for Linux, and a strong indication that no matter how much of a push it gets, Linux just doesn’t have what it takes to make it big.

At which point we can retire “The year of Linux” for a few years.

Here’S How You Might Buy Google Project Ara

Here’s how you might buy Google Project Ara

Google is taking Project Ara to Puerto Rico, and the ATAP team has been sharing some of its ideas for how to pitch a modular phone to a confused audience. While the web giant may have focused on online sales in the past, even at one point trying to bypass carriers altogether with the Nexus project, for Ara there’s a recognition that some explaining is going to be necessary. The answer, it seems, is both a mobile configurator app and a fleet of trucks that Google can take around the island, along with some interesting packaging options that play up on the modularity.

According to Google’s research, Puerto Rico shoppers particularly like going to malls: in fact, one million people visit a shopping mall every week. That preference for a face to face, in-store retail experience forced the ATAP team to think beyond just an extension of the Play Store.

Instead, the current thinking – which may well change before the market pilot expected to kick off later this year – is to dispatch a number of mobile stores out to bring Ara to the people.

Each of those vans would be an experience center and store in its own right. According to ATAP retail chief Jessi Beavers, a few different ideas for the layout of that experience are being kicked around.

For instance, there could be a “bento box” that potential Ara buyers would take around the different displays, filling with their pick of components. Those who just want a solid place to start could pick from a range of pre-selected kits, with an endo backbone and various modules sealed into some sort of pouch or box.

Even the packaging is still a work-in-progress. One idea picks up on the bento box concept, opening up to “celebrate choice and variety” according to Beavers, with the various components presented at the top and then the more mundane accessories like the charger and documentation hidden underneath.

Other options include pouches, with three individual boxes – for endo, front modules, and rear modules – stacked, and with the modules separately wrapped. Beavers also showed a concertina box which would stretch open showing the components, and an alternative box which opens up and then has side sections that slide out.

As for the configurator app, that will show a virtual Ara device which can be navigated through with swipes and pinches, and into which different selections of modules and custom shells will be placed.

From that app, it would be possible to go through the entire retail process, to the point of purchasing the phone.

Google is also considering the possibility of tapping into social networks to generate initial kits. For instance, after being granted access to a Facebook profile, the configurator could check through a shopper’s “likes” and then piece together a phone based on those.

So, someone who has expressed a keen interest in photography could end up with a design that has a focus on higher-resolution cameras.

ATAP also aims to have a custom shell printing service either at, or nearby, each point of sale, so that shells could be produced on the same day. Over the next month, Google plans to engage with a few select digital artists to build a gallery of options for that.

Want to know more? Eight things you need to know about Project Ara

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