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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Microsoft to shut down book scanning operations

Microsoft said Friday it is ending its quest to create an online library of the world's books as the technology titan revamps its strategy to battle Internet search king Google.
Live Search Books and Live Search Academics projects are being cancelled and the websites will be taken down next week, Microsoft senior vice president of search Satya Nadella said in an online posting.
"This also means that we are winding down our digitization initiatives, including our library scanning and our in-copyright book programs," Nadella wrote.
"Based on our experience, we foresee that the best way for a search engine to make book content available will be by crawling content repositories created by book publishers and libraries."
Microsoft launched its online library projects after Google embarked on an ambitious and controversial campaign to make all written works available free online in digital format.
Microsoft Corp. is abandoning its effort to scan whole libraries and make their contents searchable, a sign it may be getting choosier about the fights it will pick with Google Inc.

The world's largest software maker is under pressure to show it has a coherent strategy for turning around its unprofitable online business after its bid for Yahoo Inc., last valued at $47.5 billion, collapsed this month.

Digitizing books and archiving academic journals no longer fits with the company's plan for its search operation, wrote Satya Nadella, senior vice president of Microsoft's search and advertising group, in a blog post Friday.

Microsoft will take down two separate sites for searching the contents of books and academic journals next week, and Live Search will direct Web surfers looking for books to non-Microsoft sites, the company said.

Nadella said Microsoft will focus on "verticals with high commercial intent."

"We believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer and content partner," Nadella wrote.

At an advertising confab at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters this week, he demonstrated a new system that rewards customers with cash rebates for using Live Search to find and buy items on advertisers' sites.

Microsoft entered the book-scanning business in 2005 by contributing material to the Open Content Alliance, an industry group conceived by the Internet Archive and Yahoo. In 2006, it unveiled its competing MSN book search site.

Unlike Google, whose decision to scan books still protected under copyright law has provoked multiple lawsuits, Microsoft stuck to scanning books with the permission of publishers or that were firmly in the public domain.

The company said it will give publishers digital copies of the 750,000 books and 80 million journal articles it has amassed.

Microsoft's search engine is a distant third behind Google's and Yahoo's, in terms of the number of queries performed each month, despite the company's many attempts to emulate Google's innovative search features and create some of its own.


Microsoft Will Shut Down Book Search Program
Microsoft said Friday that it was ending a project to scan millions of books and scholarly articles and make them available on the Web, a sign that it is retrenching in some areas of Internet search in the face of competition from Google, the industry leader.

The announcement, made on a company blog, comes two days after Microsoft said it would focus its Internet search efforts on certain areas where it sees an opportunity to compete against Google. On Wednesday, Microsoft unveiled a program offering rebates to users who buy items that they find using the company’s search engine.

Some search experts said Microsoft’s decision to end its book-scanning effort suggested that the company, whose search engine has lagged far behind those of Google and Yahoo, was giving up on efforts to be comprehensive.

“It makes you wonder what else is likely to go,” said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of the blog Search Engine Land. “One of the reasons people turn to Google is that it tries to be a search player in all aspects of search.”

Mr. Sullivan said that the number of people using book search services from Microsoft and Google was relatively small, but it included librarians, researchers and other so-called early adopters who often influence others. These users are now likely to turn to Google with increasing frequency, he said.

Both Microsoft and Google have been scanning older books that have fallen into the public domain, as well as copyright-protected books under agreements with some publishers. Google also scans copyrighted works without permission so it can show short excerpts to searchers, an approach that has drawn fire from publishers.

Microsoft’s decision also leaves the Internet Archive, the nonprofit digital archive that was paid by Microsoft to scan books, looking for new sources of support. Several major libraries said that they had chosen to work with the Internet Archive rather than with Google, because of restrictions Google placed on the use of the new digital files.

“We’re disappointed,” said Brewster Kahle, chairman of the Internet Archive. Mr. Kahle said, however, that his organization recognized that the project, which has been scanning about 1,000 books each day, would not receive corporate support indefinitely. Mr. Kahle said that Microsoft was reducing its support slowly and that the Internet Archive had enough money to keep the project “going for a while.”

“Eventually funding will come from the public sphere,” Mr. Kahle said.

Some libraries that work with the Internet Archive and Microsoft also said they planned to continue their book-scanning projects.

“We certainly expect to go on with this,” said Carole Moore, chief librarian at the University of Toronto. “Corporate sponsors are interested in whatever works for their commercial interests and their shareholders. Long-term preservation is not something you can look to the commercial sector to provide. It is what research libraries have always done.”

Microsoft acknowledged on its blog that commercial considerations played a part in its decision to end the program.

“Given the evolution of the Web and our strategy, we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer and content partner,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s senior vice president for search, portal and advertising, wrote on the blog.

Microsoft said it had digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles.

Google, which works with libraries like the New York Public Library and those at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan and Oxford, said it had scanned more than a million books. It plans to scan 15 million in the next decade. Google makes the books it scans freely available through its search engine but does not allow other search engines to use its database.

“We are extremely committed to Google Book Search, Google Scholar and other initiatives to bring more content online,” said Adam Smith, product management director at Google.

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