Google Indexing Scanned Text

    October 31, 2008
    Chris Crum

Google is now indexing scanned documents in search results. In other words if you scan a page of text and post it to the web, it will be treated like an actual page of text rather than the image that it truly is (theoretically at least).

Google Indexing Image Text

As Google says, while reading the scanned text may be very easy for a human, it’s a very error-prone process for a computer, so it is unlikely that this will be a flawless endeavor. In a post on the Official Google Blog, Product Manager Erin Levey elaborates a little bit on what Google’s doing:

In the past, scanned documents were rarely included in search results as we couldn’t be sure of their content. We had occasional clues from references to the document– so you might get a search result with a title but no snippet highlighting your query. Today, that changes. We are now able to perform OCR on any scanned documents that we find stored in Adobe’s PDF format. This Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology lets us convert a picture (of a thousand words) into a thousand words — words that can be searched and indexed, so that these valuable documents are more easily found. This is a small but important step forward in our mission of making all the world’s information accessible and useful.

While we’ve indexed documents saved as PDFs for some time now, scanned documents are a lot more difficult for a computer to read. Scanning is the reverse of printing. Printing turns digital words into text on paper, while scanning makes a digital picture of the physical paper (and text) so you can store and view it on a computer. The scanned picture of the text is not quite the same as the original digital words, however — it is a picture of the printed words. Often you can see telltale signs: the ring of a coffee cup, ink smudges, or even fold creases in the pages.

Google invites us to take a look at some results that incorporate these listings (noticing the document excerpts):

repairing aluminum wiring
spin lock performance
Mumps and Severe Neutropenia
Steady success in a volatile world

This project ought to save some people a lot of typing. I can’t help but wonder if this will contribute to Google Book Search pages coming up in regular search results in the future. Perhaps this was a big motivator for Google to do this in the first place. Just speculation.