Amazon has some ambitious new plans for book browsers. The site has added a capability called Search Inside the Book, which allows full-text searching and online viewing of every page in 120,000 books. The new offering, a result of deals struck with nearly 200 publishers, is based on proprietary search technology. During a demonstration for PC Magazine editors, we used the new features to successfully search copyrighted books for Mongolian beef recipes and instructions for fixing leaky faucets.
"The Search Inside the Book features followed our Look Inside the Book work we had already been doing, where tables of contents and other select parts of books were available to look at," says Udi Manber, an Amazon vice-president and the companys chief algorithm officer. Manber was behind the development of Search Inside the Book. He says the database, which contains over 33 million pages, is several terabytes in size, and the search technology was years in the making.
To get an idea of how the new features work, go to Amazons site (www.amazon.com) and search for "deconstructionism" in the main search window under the books category. You will discover several books that feature the word in their bodies. If you select one result, "Closing of the American Mind" by Alan Bloom, you will see the "Search Inside" logo, which you can click on to search further. Click on the logo and search for "Saul Bellow," and youll find several passages you can read that contain mentions of Blooms Nobel Prize-winning friend. A How It Works page demonstrates the new features and provides sample searches. The service is free, but to view book pages you do need to have a credit card on file with Amazon.
To build the service, Amazon officials got permission to offer free access to these copyrighted works from some of the biggest names in the publishing business, including HarperCollins Publishers, Holtzbrinck Publishers, McGraw-Hill Professional, Publishers Group West, Random House, Inc., Simon & Schuster, Inc., Time Warner Book Group, and Wiley.
"This is just the beginning for Search Inside the Book," says Jani Baker, an Amazon spokesperson. "The number of titles we have in Search Inside the Book at launch is more than most book stores carry, and there are many more to come. We cannot speculate on the total number of books we will ultimately have available, but we can tell you that we plan to make significantly more books searchable."
Amazons Manber adds, "We wanted to get the technology out there so people could try it." He predicts that people will not use the features for online reading, but rather for making decisions about which books to buy.