Journal: News & Comment

Friday, October 24, 2003
# 9:16:00 PM:

Amazon's Google for books

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When I first read today that you can now search inside's books, I though, "Hey neat."

Then I thought about it. And read the Wired article, which says, in part:

Seventy-one percent of college students use the Internet as their research tool of first resort. [...] For most students today, if something is not on the Net, it doesn't exist.

And yet most books are not on the Net. This means that students, among others, are blind to the most important artifacts of human knowledge. For many students, the Internet actually contracts the universe of knowledge, because it makes the most casual and ephemeral sources the most accessible, while ignoring the published books.

[Amazon's new approach] shifts power away from the people who own finite sets of copyrighted material and toward the people who offer access to information about where this material can be found. Information about books, not ownership of copyrights, becomes a new center of power. [...] Amazon's Search Inside the Book is not an ebook project. It is merely a catalog. But a decade of Internet history proves that the catalog is exactly what you want to own.

I started getting a little woozy when I realized what's going on. Here: search for the excruciating Latin name of a common green sea urchin. Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis is not in the titles of any books, but Amazon finds it on the pages of a whole bunch, and then lets you see the pages.

Soon we will have, in effect, Google for books. Eventually, every book Amazon carries, as well as others in the public domain catalogued elsewhere. Perhaps most of the books in the world, and maybe most of the books ever published. That's huge.


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