Whoever dies with the most data wins!

October 14, 2009

Whoever dies with the most data wins!

Apparently so, according to Tim O’Reilly, author of “What is Web 2.0.” O’Reilly explains that a key source of power in our new Web 2.0 world is control of data. But is all data valuable? If so, how valuable? Who decides? What is more valuable, the core data or the “added-value” that gives data its “real” value? And who should get paid what amount at the end of the day? Our Web 2.0 world seems to be bumping into a few of theses sticky questions.

At first, I liked what I heard about this new promise land call Web 2.0: no scheduled software releases, just continuous improvements; no licensing or sales, just usage; and no more porting to different platforms. Sounds downright Utopian. How wonderful! Well, maybe not so wonderful.

As O’Reilly explains, Google is the standard bearer for this thing called Web 2.0 for all the reasons outlined above (and then some).  At its core, Google is a specialized database with some very sophisticated software tools. But without the data, these tools are useless. Of course, without their magic algorithms, the data is unmanageable and also worthless (to them!). For the moment, Google seems to have the software tool side of the equation nailed down pretty well. The more interesting and unresolved question is: who will win the data battle? As O’Reilly goes on to explain, “the value of the software is proportional to the scale and dynamism of the data it helps to manage.” Given this reality, things will likely get very ugly in our new 2.0 Utopia.

Of course, things have already gotten ugly with the Google Books scandal. And the complaints about finger spam are the least of it (although this makes me wonder if Google’s operational competencies are slipping in the race to feed the data monster).

At the moment, this is how Google is spinning the settlement. “Three years ago, the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and a handful of authors and publishers filed a class action lawsuit against Google Books. Today we’re delighted to announce that we’ve settled that lawsuit and will be working closely with these industry partners to bring even more of the world’s books online. Together we’ll accomplish far more than any of us could have individually, to the enduring benefit of authors, publishers, researchers and readers alike.”

I have nothing against better access to more books but the idea of grabbing data without notifying or properly compensating the creators of said data really bugs me. This is called bad manners where I come from. In reality, this is nothing more than a big fat data grab without any real regard for the people who rightfully own the data. So, what is Google willing to fork over now that the courts have basically handed them millions of books?

Check out what the settlement says about “cash payments” to authors: “For Principal Works, Entire Inserts, and Partial Inserts that Google digitized on or before May 5, 2009, Google will pay at least US$60 per Principal Work, US$15 per Entire Insert, and US$5 per Partial Insert.”

Excuse me? $60 per principal work? Is this a joke? I don’t care what may (or, more likely, may not) happen in the long tail with their 63% profit sharing scheme, that’s just insulting. Jeez, and I though I was getting ripped off when I sold the digital rights to my film for $5000 with an even better profit sharing arrangement. The real kicker is, according to the proposal, those accepting the settlement decision need to make a claim by June 5th or Google will consider their failure to do so as a waiver of future claims. And, on top of that, those who refuse the settlement need to file their own lawsuit before Jan 5th.  So when they say, “together we can accomplish far more than any of us could have individually” what they really mean is: take the $60 bucks because it’s a much better deal than zero dollars which is what you’ll get if you don’t play by our rules. And, by the way, to all you junior varsity authors out there: you can’t afford to buy your kids xmas presents and hire a lawyer, so forget about filing the Jan 5th law suit. Bah humbug!

I’m counting on the Chinese to kick some Google butt. According to the Wall Street Journal, many of the Chinese authors who just got wind of the fact that Google is ripping them off are none too pleased. In an interview with Chinese language media, writer Chen Cun said that he would never accept the payment settlement. “Go scan Harry Potter and then pay J.K. Rowling $60, see whether she’ll take it!”

Nicely said. Well, lots to look forward to in the wonderful world of Web 2.0 but some ugly stuff on the horizon too. I hope all of us creative types that have been living in the long tail for a while now will take this Chinese proverb to heart : “A book holds a house of gold.”


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