Google June 18 improved its Google Books service to make the virtual book service more like the way users consume paper books. Yahoo meanwhile improved its SearchMonkey service with new enhanced results and added Google Base formatting for structured data feeds.
The Google Books upgrade comes amid a formal inquiry into the book program by the U.S. Justice Department, which has been courting catcalls about the $125 million settlement Google signed with publishers and agencies in fall 2008.
In that deal, Google houses digital versions of the world's books on the Web and generates money by licensing the works to users and libraries. Opponents claim Google is in danger of violating antitrust laws for trying to corral the world's books online. Google denies the accusations and has offered to amend the agreement.
Despite the inquiry, innovation on Google Books continues. Brandon Badger, Google Books product manager, wrote: "You might want to flip through the pages to find an image. You might want to open right up to the table of contents so you can find your favorite chapter. And you might want to pass it along to a friend so they can have a look at it, too."
Taking a page out of Google's playbook for sharing YouTube videos, the Google Books service now lets users embed a preview of a full view or partner book in any Website or blog with a single line of HTML code.
Users can also share pages from publications in Google Books by grabbing a URL link and e-mailing it to friends. Google Book Search also boasts better search for public-domain books, which are not protected by copyrights, and partner books, those tomes for which Google has partnered with publishers.
The new tools let users see where a search term appears within the book by showing them more context around the term and an image from the part of the page on which it appears. Users can click on those images to navigate directly to the pages inside the book and sort search results by relevance in addition to page order in the publication.
A new thumbnail view provides an overview of all the pages in a public domain book or in a magazine, while a contents drop-down menu enables users to jump to chapters within the book or articles within a magazine.
Click the page turn button at the bottom of the screen and an animated line moves with the page turn to make it easier to keep track of location in the text.
Also on June 18, Yahoo announced improved Yahoo Search, letting Website owners display enhanced Yahoo Search results for product pages, local information, events, news and discussions.
As an example, Yahoo said a retail Website could add a few lines of code so that its product pages display as an enhanced result that includes the rating, price, reviews and product photo directly on the search results page.
Enhanced results for these new data types will appear in Yahoo Search results a few weeks after site owners add the markup, and after Yahoo crawls their pages for the necessary structured data. There is no sign-up process; Yahoo invites site owners to begin adding the markup to their sites now.
The rollout follows Yahoo's March features, which let users embed video, games and documents in Yahoo Search results.
In other Yahoo Search news, the company said site owners who have Google Base feeds can now automatically have their enhanced results displayed in Yahoo Search by submitting their existing feeds through Yahoo Site Explorer.
However it happens, Yahoo needs to continue to build out structured data for SearchMonkey, which it hopes will help the company foster a more open search environment as an alternative to Google and Microsoft. The company is closing projects left and right and is trying to recover from a disastrous takeover attempt by Microsoft, while Microsoft's Bing search is getting traction.