Online Book Searches Courtesy of Google and Microsoft

Our two Internet biggies, Google and Microsoft, are duking it out in the book-search arena, with Microsoft’s new Live Search Books tool competing with Google’s more established Book Search .

In December 2006, Microsoft launched Live Search Books, which is still in beta testing. At launch, Live Search Books included content from the British Library, the University of Colorado and the University of Toronto, with other additions planned for later. Microsoft does not include copyright-protected materials within its data. All books are either in the public domain, or the publisher has given permission to include specific content. In time, Microsoft intends to incorporate book contents within its regular search engine.

Google’s Book Search is a component of the highly controversial Library Project–in which the multibillion-dollar corporation intends to digitize the world’s books, all in the name of public good, of course. The Association of American Publishers and the Author’s Guild object strongly to this plan, as does anyone else who sees a problem with one corporation controlling the world’s written information. Amid much debate and discussion of our admittedly murky copyright laws, Google eventually stated it would make only versions of public domain books online, while serving only “snippets” of copyrighted text. The debate continues.

Legal minds will sort this out as time passes. In the meantime, let’s see what the two Book Search tools have to offer the everyday user.

Microsoft Book Search

A visit to the Microsoft tool proves fruitful. Taking lessons from the Great Google, Microsoft has provided a clear, simple-to-use site with little to distract us.

To test it out, I tried to remember an exact quote from a book. library discovery service I came up with, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times,” written by a fellow named Dickens. Running the search without quotes produced a number of unrelated results, but when I added quotes, sure enough, A Tale of Two Cities turned up immediately. Since the book is in the public domain, you can download the entire 498-page book in PDF format. What you’re doing to do with a 498-page PDF file is another topic.

Let’s see what we get with something that isn’t in the public domain. Fishing Steven King’s new offering, Lisey’s Story , out of the pile under my bed, I entered the first line of the book, “To the public eye, the spouses of well-known writers are all but invisible.” Nothing. Nada. Entering the title of the first chapter had similar results. Entering simply “Lisey” turned up various hits, but none pertaining to King’s new book.

Moving on, I tried searching for the first line of Joe Vitale’s Hypnotic Marketing . This time I got a hit. The book showed up, and by signing into one of my Microsoft accounts, I was able to search through the book, using key terms. But here I encountered something interesting. The publisher has decreed that only 58 pages of the book can be accessed. Although I didn’t scroll through 58 pages to see what would happen when I reached zero, I have faith that I would not have accessed any additional pages.

I like this feature. True, a search of an online library catalogue will turn up some information about the book in question, but it usually doesn’t allow you to peruse a number of pages in those books. This is great for those times when you can’t remember whether you’ve actually read a book, or just read a lot about a book. That happens to me a lot.

Next, I tried a keyword search to see what would turn up by topic. “Law of attraction” turned up plenty of hits–some pertaining to the Law of Attraction, and others related to various other subjects.

But what about those times when you remember the topic or a key term from a book, but you can’t remember the name of the book it appeared in? Can Live Book Search help? I searched for the term “Kunte Kinte,” hoping to discover the title of the best-selling book that had described Kinte’s life. I remembered the author and the storyline, but darned if I could remember the title of the book. Bingo! The very first hit was for another book that mentioned Kunte Kinte in the blurb, and referenced the TV mini-series, Roots . I remembered the book was also named Roots , but it did not turn up among Microsoft’s hits.

Google Book Search

Moving on, I decided to duplicate my efforts with Google Book Search. I found the same easy-to-use, uncluttered interface that Google is known for. However, Google also provides Advanced Book Search and Book Search Help -features lacking at Microsoft’s site. An FAQ page, also missing at Microsoft’s site, explains that Google gets its content from participating libraries (listed), and from individual publishers that make their books, or a specified number of pages, available.

My search for the first lines from the public domain book A Tale of Two Cities showed much the same results as Microsoft served. The book appears early in the list of hits, and is available as a downloadable PDF file.

I searched for Lisey’s Story next. This time, I had a hit, but the book isn’t searchable. You can click through to various reviews, search for it at a library, purchase it from a number of online booksellers, or purchase it as an audio file from a company using a sponsored link.

Next, I tried the first line from Hypnotic Marketing : “It’s time to awaken, you are getting sleepier . . . sleepier . . ..” Nothing. The search asked me if I misspelled anything. Next, I ran a search for the title. The book’s not listed, although I did get a few hits for other books written by Joe Vitale, along with a large selection of sponsored links.

Searching for the Law of Attraction, with and without quotes, turned up a few good hits. Google outperformed Microsoft by showing the more pertinent links near the top. As expected, the searchable content varied from book to book, depending on how many pages the author or publisher had authorized.

My search for “Kunte Kinte” turned up 101 references, making it easy to discover that the book title is Roots . I didn’t look through the entire 10 pages, but it doesn’t appear that Google has a Roots listing, either.

So, which is better? My personal vote goes to Microsoft’s search tool, but in actual practice, searchers will probably have to switch back and forth between the two to find specific information. It’s good to have two options instead of one.

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