Sunday, July 27, 2008

How Google Could Make Google Books Better

It's easy, really, and I've posted on aspects of it before. It also has the side effect of improving everything about a university's digital experience, from learning to teaching to research.

  1. Purchase Blackboard, the ubiquitous, inept, and monopolistic course-management software company. Inherit its contracts and junk its lousy software. Replace it with a new interface integrating Google Search, Docs, Chat, Mail, Books, Blogger, Scholar, und so weiter.
  2. In particular, use this interface -- which you would need a login ID and password from the university to access -- to offer full digital access to everything in Google Books and Google Scholar, or at least everything already offered by the library (permissions permitting). Google could also offer a special university-optimized browser toolbar, providing push-button access to the university's electronic resources. If Google wants to launch an encylopedic rival to Wikipedia, this would be the best platform for it: both for soliciting contributions and for driving use. If Wikipedia is the open encyclopedia anybody can use and edit, Googlepedia (or whatever they're calling it these days) would be the open encyclopedia used and edited by the best minds in the world. (Among others.)
  3. Potential criticism of this would be familiar: a closed monopoly on electronic access. But it's no more closed or monopolizing than Blackboard already is, and would actually add value both for university users and the broader public. The walls are already there; tearing them down can be a separate discussion. The other (and I would argue, the primary) goal is to try to make the information both inside and outside of them as valuable as possible.


Robin Sloan said...

Loooove the 'buy-Blackboard-and-junk-the-software' concept. Dunno if it makes sense business-wise -- I'm sure it's a complex calculation -- but I like the chutzpah. :-)

Tim said...

The alternative would be just to out-compete Blackboard, which is certainly easier now that its insane patent claims have been rejected. But buying the company has great elegance.

I'm sure there are aspects of the Blackboard system that could be retained and lots of particular software engineers, etc., who could make the transition. I don't think any serious company (and I think BB isn't publicly traded) would be likely to sell itself regardless of the price if it thought it would just be balled up completely. But Google could definitely put some serious lipstick on that pig.