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Web Watch
Google's Turns a New Page With Book Search Feature

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_____Recent Columns_____
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Web Watch Archive
Leslie Walker's .com
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Web Watch
Sunday, December 21, 2003; Page F07

The search engine Google has ripped a page out of Amazon.com's book, debuting a way for people to search through text that was once exclusively located offline and stashed between book covers. Who knew that books would turn out to be a new flashy feature for the Internet this year?

The search engine announced the "Google Print Beta" service on Wednesday. To use it, go to Google's search engine and, in the usual place, type in "print.google.com" followed by whatever subject your heart desires.

Books that this search feature turns up are preceded by a bracketed tag that reads "BOOK - BETA"; click on each link and you'll see excerpts from the text, plus links to the Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million sites that let you buy the title. (Google said it does not profit if users purchase a book this way.)

Google says it uses the same software to comb through the text of books (scanned in one at a time) that the site uses to index the Web. The site has been on a development tear this season, introducing all sorts of widgets that embed its search tools deeper into Web users' lives, such as toolbar add-ons that let folks conduct a Web search without even starting up their browser.

In this case, however, Google trailed Amazon by a few months -- the retailer's "search inside the book" feature debuted in October. It drew some flack from authors and publishers at its start; some scribes worried that the service would give people a reason not to purchase hard copies of their work (especially reference manuals, such as cookbooks) at all.

Amazon's version features some 120,000 titles from 190 publishers, or 33 million pages of searchable text. Google's is much less complete in this early state -- the site would not disclose the number of titles it has indexed so far.

Sometimes Google calls a new feature "beta" even when it feels darn near like a finished product. This, on the other hand, is a project that seems like it's still in test mode, thanks to the limited number of titles that crop up on early tryouts.

We did a search on "beer" late this week for example, and -- what the heck? -- the first link was to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring," which mentions the popular beverage in a discussion about the hospitality in Bilbo Baggins' hometown. A search on the term "vacation" meanwhile, turned up a children's book ("Clowns on Vacation" by Nina Laden).

AOL Plays iTunes

America Online added support for Apple's iTunes online music shop on Thursday, allowing AOL members to buy music by clicking on iTunes links throughout the AOL Music area.

The online service also announced that it will offer some exclusive content to AOL iTunes users through its Sessions@AOL and Broadband Rocks programs. The exclusives offered so far include tracks from David Bowie and R.E.M. as well as 50 Cent's timeless holiday chestnut "P.I.M.P."

www.apple.com/itunes

Santa on the Radar

Bring the kids around the computer screen this Christmas Eve. For the sixth year in a row, Philadelphia-based aerospace software developer Analytical Graphics Inc. is tracking the movements of Santa Claus online. Naughty and nice alike can participate, so long as they have an Internet connection and RealOne, Windows Media Player or QuickTime software.

Ho ho ho!

www.noradsanta.com> -- Mike Musgrove

Comments, suggestions, questions? E-mail webwatch@washpost.com.


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