What would Google do? That's one of the questions posed in this Fortune article. Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine was the person asking the question and I think it's an important one for anyone involved in content creation/distribution to consider. As the article reports, Jarvis hosted a panel called "Exploding Media" and said "media companies should stop complaining and ask themselves 'What would Google do?'" He also suggested that "today's mandate is to help people distribute both their own creations and what they receive from professional media in their own way."
An excellent example that was cited is the combination of Google Maps and Google Earth and how they are both made even more powerful by the contributions of users. What's the analogy in the book publishing world? What will it take for book content to be open and accessible enough to allow for customer mashups, for example?
Talk about a huge can of worms... This is an extremely tricky subject given all the IP rights and other ownership issues involved. Then there's the challenge of effectively monetizing the model. Nevertheless, it's something I think will happen at some point; it's just a question of who and when.
This is where I see so much opportunity for social networks and devices like Amazon's Kindle. Imagine a world where you're reading a book on the Kindle and the latest chapter/passage reminds you of a good friend. With almost no effort at all you're able to select that passage and e-mail it to your friend with a note saying, "I thought of you when I read this and I wanted you to read it too." As an added incentive, the message has all the hooks in it to give you an affiliate cut of the transaction if your friend ever winds up buying that book.
How about tools like LibraryThing and the iRead Facebook application? Imagine how much more interesting and powerful those services could become if content access and sharing found its way into them. Yes, the legal issues are daunting but I am optimistic that we'll get there at some point.