Saturday, July 07, 2007



It used to be that Google Book Search only showed page images, but in the past week I've noticed that some Google Book Search pages (not all) make it possible to toggle between "View plain text" and "View page images."

This is a major improvement, because it allows text to be copied and pasted. The mediocre quality of the optical character recognition is surprising, though, and the copied text must be carefully compared with the page image so that errors can be caught and removed. There are a dwindling number of things that humans can do better than computers, and character recognition is still one of them. Because of Google Book Search's problems with character recognition, it sometimes fails to find hits for text actually present in its books.

It would be nice if Google Book Search had a "Print Page Image" button. I don't know how many times I've been forced to resort to this trick: hit Alt and Print Scrn simultaneously to capture the screen image, start Microsoft Paint, paste the screen image, crop away everything except the page image, and print. That's unnecessarily tedious.

Along the same lines, why does Google Book Search return hits that say "No preview available?" This is like the punishment meted out to Tantalus. I'd rather not have the search results cluttered with items I am not allowed to access.

Under Google Advanced Book Search, "All books," "Limited preview," "Full view," and "Library catalogs" should not be mutually exclusive radio buttons. Most of the time I want both "Limited preview" and "Full view" hits returned.

Also, why does Google Book Search sometimes store two or more copies of the same edition of the exact same text? The identical copies are obviously copied from different libraries. This seems wasteful of the effort required to copy books, especially when there are so many books out there still not copied.

I have another minor peeve about Google. Surely every Googler has had an experience like this. You search for, say, "nemini nocere possitis" and get a few hits. Google unhelpfully asks:
Did you mean to search for: "nemini nocere positions"
You didn't, but for a lark you click on "nemini nocere positions," to which Google predictably replies:
Your search - "nemini nocere positions" - did not match any documents.
Google should know ahead of time that there are no hits for "nemini nocere positions" and should not make ridiculous suggestions.

Despite these criticisms, Google is still the best thing on the Internet.

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