27 May 2008 by Published in: Research and Writing 2 comments

According to this article on CNet News, Microsoft is pulling the plug on its book scanning project, essentially leaving it to Google.

404 for Microsoft’s latest decision
Posted by Charles Cooper
In the middle of a gritty search war, did Steve Ballmer just commit the mother of all mistakes?

I’ve been wondering about that ever since Microsoft said it would close its Search Books and Live Search Academic projects, thus ceding the field of book digitization to Google. (While both Live Search Books and Live Search Academic are going dark, both Google’s Book Search and Google Scholar continue to operate.)

Satya Nadella, who runs Microsoft’s Search, Portal and Advertising Platform Group wrote in a blog post that “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.”

I tried getting through to Nadella today for a better explanation but Microsoft pulled up the drawbridge. Left on my own to speculate, it appears that Microsoft was being penny-wise but pound foolish. (After all, the company was ready to buy nearly $45 billion worth of trouble integrating Yahoo.) Memo to Nadella: When you get sick of hunkering in the bunker, let’s talk.

Reading through Nadella’s blog post, this much is clear: Microsoft wants to put its search marbles into programs like Cashback, (the new Microsoft service that rebates people to buy products online), where there’s better potential for a material payback. But the search competition with Google is also partly a popularity test. Consider the following:

• Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand rightly pointed out to the New York Times that while the number of people using search book services is relatively small, it’s an influential lot with researchers and librarians and other earlier adopters. Don’t underestimate the prestige factor.

• Participation in the project allowed Microsoft to promote itself as being one of the good guys. The Open Content Alliance says it won’t scan books without first receiving permission of copyright owners. Google was sued by authors and publishers over its decision to scan copyrighted snippets without permission. Google argued that the works fell under the category of fair use. Rightly or not, however, Google was pilloried as a bad actor in this novella.

Sullivan sums it up nicely when he writes that “Microsoft got mileage out of the idea it was working with the Open Content Alliance as the “good” book search partner not encumbered by controversy that the Google Book Search service has encountered.

Now Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive is left scratching his head how to replace Microsoft’s financial support for the consortium. A decade removed from its antitrust battle with the government, Microsoft’s not as uniformly dreaded as it once was. Maybe Microsoft believes it’s in a position where it doesn’t need to buy good will any more. Still, you can never have enough friends.

I’ve also used the Internet Archive site, and find it to have some useful material. I wonder whether this decision by Microsoft will cause it to come crashing down, too.

Scridb filter


  1. dan
    Tue 27th May 2008 at 11:02 pm

    This is bad. Google, in conjunction with Live.com, is fantastic. Both separately byte; but together they are a powerhouse resource. This is clearly another mistake in a looooonnng string of MS errors. I agree with the post that the early adopters are important, and ought not to be ignored. But MS is all about the $$, after all, Bill G. must furnish his new house, right? Can any company alienate its user base as badly as MS has and still exist? Oh well, I’ve really appreciated the scans on Live.com and hope that this poster is in error. I can’t tell you the hours of research time that this tool has saved me.

  2. Wed 28th May 2008 at 8:19 am

    I’m hearing the decision was based to some degree on some technical issues – compatibility with the next generation of indexing and presentation applications on MS horizon. The company is heavily invested with the twin product lines of desktop and enterprise search offered from Windows Vista and Office (SharePoint) Search, respectively. But both have issues when compared to Google’s products in those categories. Maybe it isn’t so much of a gaffe, but gambling on the future.

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