Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Google Books reality check

My enthusiasm for Google Books has waned somewhat since my previous post. First, I had a rocky relationship with the service over the weekend. I spent some time adding books to my library, which was for the most part good, clean fun. However, once the books were in the system, there didn’t seem to be any way to sort them for display. Books are automatically displayed in the order in which they are entered into the system; it is impossible to sort them by author or title. I guess the “organizing” in “organizing the world’s information” doesn’t mean what I think it does. The tagging feature is also a little too robust: even though the tags are separated by commas, the system automatically formats the tags when they are saved, eliminating multi-word tags. You can work around this by placing strings that contain more than one word in quotation marks, but that gets awkward. Also, the tags are case sensitive, but I don’t know why. I’m not sure that I need to differentiate between “rhetoric” and “Rhetoric,” for instance. Together, these features make the tag system a bit unwieldy; who can remember if they capitalized the second word in a string when they are tagging their 300th book?

Next, I was trying to liven up my course page for Literature and Mathematics by adding the title page from Flatland, but for some reason it won’t display. Apparently this feature still has some bugs to iron out.

Finally, today I found two less than glowing reviews of the service in First Monday. In “Inheritance and loss?: A brief survey of Google Books” Paul Duguid argues that Google Books relies on the quality control of the libraries whose books it is scanning, but this quality isn’t necessarily inherited to the system. Second, in this podcast (transcript), Siva Vaidhyanathan discusses the ways that the Google Books project threatens the Fair Use doctrine of copyright. Overall, it seems like the folks at Google still have a lot of issues to work out with this particular offering.

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