Editor's Note: This review has been updated to include new information.
Once upon a time, there was an idea to electronically, immediately read and search major literary works online.
This is how Google Books first entered public consciousness, as a tangled controversy between publishers who feared copyright infringement and Internet enthusiasts championing Google's momentum to search everything.
Liberating information is good, those publishers said, but not at our expense. Not so, replied Google, who promised it could increase awareness for niche publishers, protect copyrights, and create opportunity for greater sales all while promoting a valuable public service.
And so it is that a few years later Google Books is open for business. Rifle through its Web pages and you'll see the service immediately has much to offer. There's the powerful search functionality for a start, which pulls up full and limited views (at the publisher's discretion) for a range of books. Neighboring links provide author and book information, and an option to add the title to a personal library. Enter the social networking aspect where users share reviews and ratings on particular works.
In the full view, users can browse for popular passages, search within the text, discover other books by the author, and even link to book sellers and public libraries.
Google Books has exerted some effort making pages readable online with zooming and full-screen views. Left and right arrow navigation mirrors the act of flipping paper pages, and there's a field for skipping ahead to a specified page. Scrolling down also advances the pages.
Not only can you search for specific text or quotes, you can create highlighted clips to embed in any multimedia site. At least this is the feature announced today by Google Books intern Manas Tungare (see blog.) The icon has so far been elusive on the book pages I've looked at, but watch this space for updates when Google Books gets back to me.
So far, Google Books' blogs and help center are heavily geared toward securing partnerships with libraries, authors, and publishers. The user features are stable, but a little on the thin side--so far, user participation is limited to searching, reading, linking, and finding real books--though it's certain that more interaction will come as the product matures. Including that handy quote-clipping icon.
However, that's far from "The End" for Google Books. For more hints about a major Google Books development, read this quick hit by CNET News.com reporter Stefanie Olsen.
UPDATE: A public relations representative for Google Books called. It seems that the "share and enjoy" clip feature is indeed available, just, oddly, not for the samples I happened to select. (Stay tuned for more word from the Google Book reps as to why.)
The clip icon, accompanied by a hand icon, should reside on the blue bar next to the zoom buttons in full text e-books. Click the icon and drag the crosshairs to box the selected text. You'll then be able to choose a text or image format, and where you'd like to embed the quote, currently either Blogger or Google Notebook.-- Updated 2:00 pm, 9/7/07