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'A messy landscape'

"We've created a messy landscape," the Internet Archive's Peter Brantley told the not-for-profit's Make Books Apparent conference in San Francisco, California.

"If I'm looking for a specific title, I don't really know where I should be looking for it, and I have to be concerned about the format as well, because not everything works with everything else. And then I have to actually get the book and put it on a [dedicated book reader] hardware device or other things I'm reading on."

Bookserver seeks to provide a common architecture for use across disparate stores and disparate devices, including not only PCs, laptops, and Kindle-like ereaders but also game consoles and mythical hardware like Steve Jobs' Apple tablet.

"We people really want to be able to find the book they're looking for in the format they know they can use for the devices that they have," Brantley said.

"And book distributors... they want to make books available for people to find, with accurate descriptive data, so people know what they're getting, and they want to this available in any many different places as possible, as many different channels as possible - under the terms they have agreed to for the licensing and acquisitions of their titles."

In pitching this idea, Brantley couldn't help but reference the DoJ's letter to the court over Google's $125m settlement with authors and publishers. Justice proclaimed that book data should be available "in multiple, standard, open formats supported by a wide-variety of different applications, devices, and screens."

"So we know we know we're on the side of good," Brantley said.

The basic idea is to create a web of books much like our web of, well, web documents. "In the same way we're created the massive and inspiring web of information online, where anyone can publish something and make it accessible through search," Brantley continued, "we want to create a web of books, where people can expose information about books online and make it available for people to discover, to harvest, to obtain, to lend, borrow, and buy, and put [texts] on devices of their choice."

Bookserver grew out of work done at Lexcycle, the ebook reader outfit purchased by Amazon earlier this year. Lexcycle began using an ebook catalog system based on Atom, that son-of-RSS standard. With this distribution system, third-party book sellers could serve up their titles to Lexcycle's ebook reader, Stanza, which runs on Apple's iPhone and iPod touch as well as Windows PCs and Macs.

Then, in April, just prior to the Amazon acquisition, Lexcycle teamed up with several others - including Adobe and the Internet Archive - to transform this distribution method into a standard: OPDS.

Bookserver begins with today's OPDS, but the Internet Archive and its partners intend to take the platform much further. Brantley tells The Reg that the aim is to eventually tie the architecture into third-party payment services, so that purchasing books is as easy as browsing them.

Clearly, Amazon is involved with the project - representatives of both Lexcycle and the Kindle were present at today's conference - but it remains to be seen whether Google will join the effort. Traditionally, Google has embraced the sort of lightweight distribution system defined by the OPDS system, and O'Reilly Media publishing technology engineer Keith Fahlgren tells us he's had some sort of discussions with Google over the Bookserver effort. But he too has a wait-and-see attitude.

Like Google, the not-for-profit Internet Archive is busy scanning texts - though on a smaller scale. Brewster Kahle says that the organization now has 20 scanning centers in five different countries and that it now hosts over 1.6 million titles. About half of those are actually Google scans of public domain works that netizens have then uploaded to the IA.

Other partners on the Bookserver project include not only O'Reilly and Feedbooks but Adobe, book distributor Ingram, the University of Toronto, and the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC). ®

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