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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Google Books Redesign

The Google Book search homepage just received a redesign (some of you were able to spot this prototype before, but it just went live for all). It now looks more like book shelf than straight-forward search engine; instead of the typical Google logo + input box, you’ll be seeing a couple of pre-selected covers as images, making for a more explorative approach.

Right now, the cover selections are divided into the different categories “interesting,” “classics,” “highly cited,” and “random subject” (e.g. “social groups”). Upon every page refresh, different covers will show in each of these categories. These selections are made dynamically by Google’s algorithms, the official Google Books blog emphasizes (mostly needless to say that the algorithms themselves are manually written). And if Google doesn’t have a real cover image stored among the picks, they will generate a book-cover-ish image anyway made up of the book title and the name of its author.

To the left side of the new Books homepage, you can find more categories, split up in two fiction (sci-fi, mystery, short stories...) and non-fiction (economics, biology, linguistics...). Categories are now also offered as search refinements below results, though this returns somewhat strange results for some queries (a search for Douglas Adams suggests “American literature” and “Political science/ Periodicals”, likely because the name is ambiguous).

When you hover over a book, a dynamic layer with more information shows. Click on the book, and you’ll land on its detail view containing instant previews of some of the pages. (Note not all books stored in Google Book search have such a preview feature enabled.) Plus, the “classics” section only contains works which passed into the copyright-free public domain zone, so you can view every page – including a plain-text variant of pages – as well as download a full PDF. Ironically, the public domain PDFs are watermarked with a Google logo and preceded by a long usage guideline asking you to not make commercial use of these books – even though that is perfectly OK for works which passed into the public domain.


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