Google Releases New Book Search Features

    November 22, 2006

Google has released a major update to its Book Search in an effort to provide a more organic reading experience to the user as well as scholarly resources for readers wishing to delve deeper into the academic community’s take on a particular book.

I have to admit, I’ve been a longtime skeptic of the Google Book Search project. My qualms are not wrapped up in issues such a copyright and fair use, but instead lie in a much more elemental consequence of digitizing book content.

For me, part of the satisfaction that comes from reading a good novel is the tangible experience of actually holding the book in my hands. The look, feel, and even smell of the paper all elicit different perceptions, which augment and enhance the endeavor – elevating it from merely processing words on a page to creating a full sensory experience to be enjoyed.

Google has come to find that this perspective is not uncommon among avid readers, and as a result, has worked to develop its book search to offer that type of tangible reading experience to users. In the official Google blog, the company outlines its recently implemented updates geared in this direction:

•   Zoom in on text and images. Here’s a cool full-page sketch of a ship from an 1898 book on steam navigation. Looking for something less dated? Perhaps this colorful page of a room from a book on interior design. Want a better look? You can now zoom in and out – just click on the zoom in and zoom out buttons. Play with it until you find a size you like.

•   One book, one web page. No more reloads! In one-page mode (just click the one page button), pages appear one below the other, like a scroll of paper. For full-view books, there’s also a two-page mode (two page button) in which pages appear side by side, just like in a physical book (perfect for two-page images). In both modes, you’ll be able to use previous page button and next page button to turn pages.

•   Scroll, scroll, scroll your book using the scrollbar or your mouse wheel, or by dragging (in most browsers, you’ll see a hand). You can also use the keyboard (try the spacebar, page up, page down, and the arrow keys). Or you can click on a link in the table of contents or your search results to jump right to that page (like this photo from the 1906 book Geronimo’s Story of His Life).

•   This page was made for reading. We’ve tried to tidy up the clutter to leave as much room as possible for what’s important – the book. We’ve put all the information about the book in a scrollable side menu. Still not enough room? You can put the screen in fullscreen mode with the fullscreen button, so you can use the whole window for browsing. Try it with a nice illustrated book of Celtic fairy tales or, for some lighter reading, electromagnetic wave theory.

•   More on this (and other) books. Find other books that interest you. Just click on “About this book” to find more books related to the book you’re reading. If the book How to Draw Comic Book Heroes and Villains interests you, you’ll probably like Comic Book Artist Collection, Vol. 1. We also revised our “About this book” page to provide better information for in-copyright books, from which you can just see short snippets or a limited preview.

•   Explore citations and references. You can also find other books that refer to your book of interest. If scholarly works from Google Scholar have references to the book, you’ll see them too. As an example, see what other works have referred to Aristotle’s works or the 1922 book All About Coffee.

With all these changes in mind, I decided to revisit one of my favorite novels and test the new features for myself. I pulled up Great Expectations by Charles Dickens under the full view search and began to play with the new tools.

Two page viewing and full screen mode are the major features that work together in harmony to create a powerful illusion of tangibility in the online reading experience.

Actually having the interface mimic the layout of a physical book, along with the ability to “turn the page” instead of scrolling down, really does it for me. As much as a website can, it really makes me feel like the book could be right there in front of me. That’s the kind of reading experience that is going to generate a positive response from Google Book Search users.

So while you chew on that, I’m going to get back to the exploits of Pip, Estella and Miss Havisham.

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Joe is a staff writer for WebProNews. Visit WebProNews for the latest ebusiness news.