Google just announced a new partnership with the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the University of Oxford, and The New York Public Library to digitally scan library books and make them searchable online. In one sense they’re playing catch-up with Amazon, who started putting text online some time ago and is in a stronger position to turn that into more book sales. I’m speculating a bit here, but I expect Amazon is also in a better position to negotiate for the right to make more copyrighted text available than Google, given the easier read-it-to-buy-it pipeline.
One thing that really strikes me about Google’s project is this bit:
Users searching with Google will see links in their search results page when there are books relevant to their query. Clicking on a title delivers a Google Print page where users can browse the full text of public domain works and brief excerpts and/or bibliographic data of copyrighted material. Library content will be displayed in keeping with copyright law. For more information and examples, please visit http://print.google.com/ [URL corrected — ‘Bug].
I’m a little biased since my PhD Thesis was about this kind of application, but I can easily see this sort of show me information related to what I’m doing now app being the next big thing interface advancement. (At least once it’s integrated with good search, the right data, and most importantly a company that doesn’t try to integrate it with an all-too-helpful cartoon character.)