Sunday, December 09, 2007

Google Books III

Jonathan V. Last's "Google and Its Enemies" (printer friendly) from last week's Weekly Standard made me realize that it has been a while since I had visited Google Books (see posts in January and May of last year). I think Google is moving toward a much friendlier user experience, but there seemed a lot less "free chess" there on my most recent visit than I had found on my first. Based on my experience, Google's enemies need hardly worry about their copyrights, and there is a lot of opportunity down the road for them to profit from wider exposure.

A search for "chess" yields 7840 hits, but the vast majority list "no preview available," "snippet view" (meaning they are searchable but with limited access to the original text), or "limited preview." Only those books very much out of copyright are available in full text. These include Philidor's Chess Analyzed and The Elements of Chess, Staunton's Chess Player's Companion and Chess Praxis, Steinit'z Modern Chess Instructor, Bird's Chess History and Reminiscinces, Walker's Chess and Chess Players, and Edge's The Exploits and Trimphs...of Paul Morphy. As this brief list suggests, there are many joys for the chess historian or antiquary who now has easy access to texts he could previously have seen only by visiting the Special Collections of some inaccessible library. Those interested in free access to the latest opening theory will have to buy some books. But those interested in history and knowledge will find some occasional free treats, such as:

Among the books with limited preview, there are also some nice things. Dover Books editions will sometimes have quite extensive previews. These include:

In the end, anyone who trolls through Google Books in search of chess will know that the concept's promise is much greater than what it currently delivers. I'll have to check back next year to see if they have managed to make any more progress toward that goal.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Last's blast raises a lot of interesting questions. It does seem to me as though Google was in the wrong at least in the case of the author whose text was grabbed by Google's "spiders."

From a user's perspective, my biggest gripe against Google Books is that the scans are often of poor quality. I have several times downloaded a book and read it through only to discover that it was missing multiple pages, or that some pages were scanned while in motion and therefore unreadable, or that some pages are wholly or partly obscured by the image of someone's hand (!) The contrast with the Internet Archive here is stark. I have not found a single bad scan at, and their texts always contain a very good OCR layer which you can download embedded in the pdf.

Ahh well. It's all free, and as such it's a lot more than I paid for.