Why Google Books is Important – Massive Even!

The announcement that Google has settled a $125 million lawsuit with publishers didn’t really get too much press. It also didn’t cause too much of a ripple in the blogosphere. But for an avid reader like myself, this is huge.

Much of the press that has happened has settled, predictably, around Google’s business motives. What will online browsing mean for publishers, or e-commerce channels like Amazon. Interesting questions, I’ll admit, but not nearly as interesting as what the digitization of all this information means for Google’s Mission: To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Before I go into why this is so exciting for me, let me share how I read books. I read every book twice. The first time it’s by my bedside and I try to get through a set number of pages every night. The goal is just to enjoy the book. The second reading is going over and making notes, drawing out ideas I find interesting, cross indexing with notes from other books, and expanding on ideas that are sparked by different things that I’ve read. I keep these notes in an Excel spreadsheet so I can sort, search, filter and manipulate them, based on what I’m trying to do. So, in my own way, I’ve been doing my own Google books project. Often, other books are referenced and I add them to my reading list. By the way, interesting blog posts and online articles get the same treatment. It’s my way of organizing my own little world of information.

What I’ve found is that there is a disconnect between the printed world and the digital world. When I find an interesting concept that I want to explore further, my options are limited. I can search for a book that might be about the topic, but that’s often not granular enough. Some of the best information I’ve found are a few pages on a topic in a book about a totally different topic. This would never show up in most book searches. For example, the book I’m currently reading is about neuroplasticity (the ability of the mind to remap itself) and, there  buried on pages 240 to 280 is a pretty fascinating look at Quantum mechanics and the implications on the mind/brain debate (I know, I know..but these things are fascinating..to me, anyway). You need full indexing and keyword searchability to find these things.

That’s what’s fascinating about Google’s intentions with book search. This tremendous mountain of information, fully searchable and browsable. It breaks down the current publishing module and makes it more granular, relevant and accessible. It does for publishing what MP3’s did for music. And that, potentially, is huge.

Already, the digital revolution has pushed the traditional publishing model to it’s limits. Authors release free ebooks. There are blurred boundaries between published books and online commentary. Digital rivers flow past the old traditional channels and there is no stopping it. What Google Books does is finally update and make accessible the incredible back log of information that already out there. For any lover of books, that’s big news. And about time.

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