Google Pushes for Global Literacy

October 12, 2006 0

As a firm believer in the axiom that knowledge is power, Google is pushing the ability to process information just as it puts more facts and figures at the fingertips of Internet users.
Internet search titan Google announced that it would launch "The Literacy Project" at the world’s largest book fair taking place in Germany this month.

Google said the project would be a website devoted to online resources for teachers, literacy groups and "anyone interested in reading promotion."

Collective Effort
As proposed at the Frankfurt, Germany, book fair, the initiative will make available electronic learning tools, book clubs, children’s books, and information on reading projects through blogs, video clips, and networking sites.

Visitors to the site at http://www.google.com/literacy can find and search within books about literacy or track down literacy-related research papers from academic publishers, universities, and other organizations. Video clips provide an inside look at what literacy organizations and educators around the world are doing to promote the ability to read.

"Literacy changes lives. The new Google literacy site is a brilliant opportunity for literacy organizations around the world to share imaginative ideas and research about what really works," said Julia Strong, deputy director of the UK’s National Literacy Trust, in a statement. "Together we can help to get the whole world reading, writing, and communicating."

The Mountain View, California, search engine said the effort was collaboration with the Frankfurt Book Fair literacy campaign (LitCam) and UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning.

"Only with combined efforts will we have the opportunity to fight illiteracy effectively," Ulrich Aengevoort, director of the German Adult Education Association, said in a release.

“This initiative is a great move in that direction.”

Google already is well underway with its controversial Print Library project, scanning and digitizing books from the collections of libraries at Harvard University, Oxford University, and the New York Public Library, among other institutions.

The lofty goal is to create a searchable index of all of that content and offer it at no charge on the Web, although authors and publishers have complained about copyright protections. The Open Content Alliance, a similar digital library project backed by Yahoo, Hewlett-Packard, Adobe, and the Internet Archive, uses only books in the public domain.

Google said the project was inspired by a "pressing need" to share ideas and unify to solve the global bane of illiteracy.

“The more people that have access to reading tools, project ideas, and resources, the further we will go in combating this problem,” Google said.

"Litcam is excited to have partnered with Google on this site," said Karin Plotz, LitCam director of education for the future.

"A global problem deserves a global solution, and we believe that cooperation and the sharing of best practices is the key in the fight against illiteracy."

The tool also allows people to find literacy organizations around the world using a searchable and zoom-able map.

Jessica Powell, European corporate communications manager at Google, said: "Our objective at Google is to organize the world’s information and to make it accessible to everyone.”

"We think the internet has an important role to play in terms of accessing information." This was especially important for areas such as literacy, she added.

Copyright Wrangles
More than 1 billion people around the world over the age of 15 are considered illiterate, according to Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

While the service seeks to combine a rich set of resources to combat global illiteracy, it also helps bolster the educational credentials at a company with a market value of about $120 billion.

"Google’s business was borne out of a desire to help people find information," said Nikesh Arora, vice president of Google’s European operations.

"We hope this site will serve as a bridge to even greater communication and access to important information about literacy problems–and solutions," he added.

The move ties in with the search engine giant’s foray into the literary world: “Google Book Search.” Users can now use it to search through an archive of digitized books to uncover the literature that contains their words or phrases of choice.

Publishers, such as Penguin and HarperCollins, and libraries, including Oxford University’s, have allowed Google to scan their books.

If the book is in copyright, users can only access limited information; if it is out of copyright, it can be downloaded.

But it is not without it is critics. Some believe Google is infringing copyright law by digitizing works without the copyright holders’ permission, in fact the Authors Guild of America, the Association of American Publishers and publishing company La Martiniere is suing the company.

But the search engine claims that by only revealing snippets of text, no copyright is being violated.

On a Mission
The Literacy Project also serves as a fresh way for Google to expand and differentiate its fledgling video service, which is playing catch-up against popular sites such as YouTube
Google also is conducting a $3 million pilot project with the Library of Congress. Over time, the company will integrate a massive amount of Library of Congress content into its search index.

Google has asked literacy groups around the world to upload video segments explaining and demonstrating their successful teaching programs. Among the first few hundred to be posted is a same-language subtitle project from India that uses Bollywood films to teach reading.

A nonprofit group in New York called 826NYC is helping a group of kids’ ages 6 to 9 make a video tutorial for Google, while a set of older kids is filming a claymation short.

"When our students see the Web as something they can contribute to — rather than just browse through — they are inspired to think bigger, write more and film more," said Joan Kim, the group’s director of education.

Google embarked two years ago on a massive project to digitally scan all of the world’s books, a plan that has been embraced by some publishers and pilloried by others who consider it copyright violation. A group of them have filed a lawsuit against Google in the United States.

These efforts are an extension of Google’s mission to provide access to as much information as possible and to help users find it easily. While altruistic, the efforts could boost Google’s online profile and draw more people to the Companys’ other services.