I just read that Google Books has a deal with a company for on-demand printing of old books. This is interesting in itself, and I am sure that I will be very happy to print a few books that I really would like to have in my library.
But the thing that really attracted me is a quote from the CEO of On-Demand Books, Dane Neller:
“We believe this is a revolution. Content retrieval is now centralized and production is decentralized.”
Hmmmm. So, Google has the contents. Fine for me, as they give me a simple access to a massive amount of content. Of course, book printers have the printers. Fine for me as well, as their printers are far more efficient than mine in all aspects. But how is the link made? Who forwards the content to the printer? Who certifies that the content is actually free of rights? And if it isn’t, who certifies that I have the right to print a copy of it?
Google can do all of this, of course. But now, this is not really fine for me, as it gives too much power to Google. It is perfectly OK to have Google certify that the “free” content they provide actually is, but it should also stop there. I don’t really want them to make the link, and I also want to be able to print content from other origin, and in particular, books that I buy, and books that I write (one so far, with my daughter, available at Lulu).
So, our first problem is the missing link. And here, we get very close to VRM. Since we want to interface any (printable) content with any printer, this link must be something that we, as users, control. If books are published in an open format, I can perfectly imagine a small widget or mobile application doing just that: getting content from a content source, and forwarding it to my printer of choice.
Things that are quite similar are starting to pop up, like the systems that use OAuth. However, in such cases, a bilateral agreement is required between the content provider and the service provider. So, we are not yet giving back the power to the user. But of course, as soon as we remove this bilateral agreement, an issue of trust surfaces: how do I know that the person who requires the service actually has the right to use the content. Well, that will be discussed in another post.
Our second problem is that book printing is just a very simple example. Photograph printing is another one; many times, I have wished to be able to print a few pictures and distribute them on the spot rather than psting them on some virtual wall. And we can even extend the same idea to cases in which the notion of content is more general, as well as the notion of service.
Now, I can take back my Java Card hat. In the near future, there will be embedded Web servers everywhere around us, providing a wide range of content and services. You can call that Java Card 3.0, Web of things, Ambient intelligence, but it is basically the same thing: We have content providers (the thermometer), service providers (the thermostat), and a link between them. I like to think that this link can be my mobile phone, and I can use it to associate a new thermometer to my thermostat. The funny thing is that the problem is exactly the same as above, and that at the center of it, we have the same old issue: trust.
Of course, there are other issues. But hey, I am not a web services guy, I am a security guy. So I see security problems. I like this one, and I’ll get back about it.