Via Dave Winer I found this rant by Michael Gorman, who seems to be upset that the unwashed masses are using the written word:
A blog is a species of interactive electronic diary by means of which the unpublishable, untrammeled by editors or the rules of grammar, can communicate their thoughts via the web. (Though it sounds like something you would find stuck in a drain, the ugly neologism blog is a contraction of "web log.") Until recently, I had not spent much time thinking about blogs or Blog People.
You can hear the disdain dripping from his voice in that lead paragraph - he wants to make sure that he properly sets the stage. He's a professional - he deserves to be published. The rest of us? Why, we have no such rights, and it's just a horrible, horrible thing that we do. We should know our places, and hop back to them - the sooner the better.
Why was he motivated to object? It seems that various and sundry people (wait, bloggers, not people) objected to something he wrote recently:
I had heard of the activities of the latter and of the absurd idea of giving them press credentials (though, since the credentials were issued for political conventions, they were just absurd icing on absurd cakes). I was not truly aware of them until shortly after I published an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times ("Google and God's Mind," December 17, 2004). Then, thanks to kind friends with nothing but my welfare in mind, I rapidly learned more about the blog subcultures.
My piece had the temerity to question the usefulness of Google digitizing millions of books and making bits of them available via its notoriously inefficient search engine. The Google phenomenon is a wonderfully modern manifestation of the triumph of hope and boosterism over reality. Hailed as the ultimate example of information retrieval, Google is, in fact, the device that gives you thousands of "hits" (which may or may not be relevant) in no very useful order.
Ohh, I feel properly chastened now. I promise sir, I'll stop using Google this instant - instead, every time I'm curious about something, I'll dash down to the local library and use their clearly better resources instead. I'll be ever so much more productive plowing through the paper stacks - or using the search engines the library provides access to. Not to mention the productivity boost I'll gain by hopping in my car, driving 10 miles to the nearest branch, and walking in. Yes sir, I'll surely be better off doing it that way.
Gorman must know journalists - he slipped into "but on the other hand" mode half way down:
It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs. In that case, their rejection of my view is quite understandable.
At least two of the blog excerpts sent to me (each written under pseudonyms) come from self-proclaimed "conservatives," which I find odd because many of the others come from people who call me a Luddite and are, presumably, technology-obsessed progressives. The Luddite label is because my mild remarks have been portrayed as those of someone worried about the job security of librarians (I am not) rather than one who has a different point of view on the usefulness of this latest expression of Google hubris and vast expenditure of money involved.
Just marvel at that first sentence - we aren't capable of basic comprehension either. We read his words, but we don't understand them (perhaps that means he didn't make himself clear enough? Just a thought). I also see that he decided to hammer an entire portion of the political spectrum - note the scare quotes - as part of his argument. You can always tell when you've hit a sore point - the subject changes. Gorman changed the subject to politics and the presumed expenditures of large sums of cash by Google. It must be bad - he's linked politics and money. I'd hand the man a dictionary and point to the word argument, but I'm not sure he'd get it.
The best part is, he was too lazy to provide an actual link to the article he says was mis-characterized - an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times ("Google and God's Mind," December 17, 2004). I should cut him some slack - it sounds like he doesn't know how to use Google, and based on that vast well of knowledge, is convinced that it's inaccurate as all get out. Using the search engine access in BottomFeeder, I Googled for that - and came across this on the first page of hits. I'm sure it would have been easier to run down to the library and either go through the stacks of archived newspapers or turn to the microfiche. Turning to his actual argument (I'm stretching to call it that):
A good scholarly book on, say, prisons in 19th century France goes well beyond simply supplying facts. Just imagine that book digitized and available for Googling. Google isn't saying exactly how such a search would work, but if it's anything like the current system, you might enter, say, "Nantes+Prisons" and get back hundreds of thousands of "hits." Somewhere in those hundreds of thousands would be a reference to a paragraph or more in our book. If you found it, what would you do with it? Supposing it says " 26 there were few murderers in the prisons of Nantes in 1874 26 " and gives you the source of the
paragraph. That is all but useless. Absent a lot more searching, you have no idea whether there are other references to the subject in the book, and the "information" you have found is almost meaningless out of context.
So, you abandon that line of inquiry or resolve to read the book. Are you going to do that online, assuming it's out of copyright? (In the Google scheme, hundreds of thousands of books in copyright will not be available to be read as a whole.) Not many would choose to stare at a screen long enough to do that.
So... I'm interested in some subject. Once Google has a decent start on this, I'll be able to get references to written works that I otherwise wouldn't know existed. In Michael Gorman's world, this is a bad thing. Oh, right - I'm supposed to have run down to my local library and found that information. Having Google make it available actually raises the liklihood of my doing so. Say I run into an out of print book, and I can't order it via Amazon. If I'm actually doing research, I'll know that the reference exists, and put the wheels of the library to work finding me a copy - they have book exchange and loan out agreements with other libraries. Gorman would rather have me remain unaware of the book's existence, or better still, use the arcane procedures in place to find what I need
Worse, he seems to assume that all of us have immediate access to a great metropolitan library. I live in the suburbs - The Howard County Library system is ok, but - to be blunt - they don't have nearly the reach that Google does. The Baltimore city system? Sorry, I'm not about to drive into Baltimore (not given the neighborhoods that the libraries there are in). I could hike down to DC, I suppose. Or, here's a thought, I could use Google, get a start on the information, and then drive to my local library and use their contacts with other libraries to get what I need.
Here's what it sounds like to me. Right now, tracking down hard to access information in the library system is something of a chore. It's well understood by a small cadre of professionals (like Gorman). That gatekeeping function makes him feel special, and he'd be happy to keep it. Along comes Google, ready to disintermediate him from all of us hoi polloi out here. Well gosh - we can't have that. If he doesn't have his special powers, what does he have? Worse, his special powers are being threatened by people without editors looking over their shoulders!
Finally, he objects to the possibility that people will pull partial content out of context and come to bad conclusions based on that (hmm - nope, the professional just never do that. Nor do they plagiarize or do other bad things):
The nub of the matter lies in the distinction between information (data, facts, images, quotes and brief texts that can be used out of context) and recorded knowledge (the cumulative exposition found in scholarly and literary texts and in popular nonfiction). When it comes to information, a snippet from Page 142 might be useful. When it comes to recorded knowledge, a snippet from Page 142 must be understood in the light of pages 1 through 141 or the text was not worth writing and publishing in the first place
His argument boils down to this - there's a high priesthood of professionals who guard all the information for us, and they use the thesaurus, the dictionary, and the services of editors. The rest of us? We just churn stuff out on a whim. The pros never make mistakes - by gosh, they're pros! The rest of us can barely walk, and god help us if we try to simultaneously chew gum. We need the aid of these people to protect us on our search for knowledge. They'll also make sure we avoid "bad ideas" from "disreputable people", I'm sure.
Gorman needs to wake up and realize that the days of the walled library are over. Google is doing a good thing here. The tools they plan to provide here will be value neutral - it will be possible to use them well or badly. Which means that the only difference between what they plan to provide and what already exists is ease of use. It's nice to know that Gorman stands on the worse is better side of the equation.