Google has been doing some wrong lately. I read in an Engadget article that some head honcho at Macmillan Publishers swiped some laptops at the Google Book Search booth at the BookExpo America in NYC. He was angry that Google published some of his books on Google Books Search without permission. But the booth attendants did actually notice the laptops were missing and started panicking. So Richard Charkin, the guy, goes back and hands it back to them with the line "hope you enjoyed a taste of your own medicine". He justifies his act by saying "there wasn’t a sign by the computers informing him not to steal them", referencing Google’s controversial tactic when scanning books. While that maybe be somewhat childish, the man does have a point there.
Google just seems to scan whatever books they want. You have to opt-out if you don’t want your books in. Which means that you have to make sure by checking Google’s inventory. How annoying is that? That’s really not nice. How would somebody like it if I just took everyone’s private journal and threw it in a box for everyone to read in public, and you had to ask me to get it back out? I bet nobody would like that. So I decided to take a look around Google Books, just to give it a try. So here’s how it is:
It seems to be really mediocre. Nothing too special there.I did a search on The Hardy Boys. It gave me some stuff, not all of it was relevant though. I really hate it when the confuse "The Hardy Boys" with "The Hardy Boyz", the latter being the WWE wrestlers. I mean there’s a ‘z’ in the last one. How could you confuse that? There were some with picture covers, some didn’t have any. There were the usual ads on the side of the search results. When I pressed one of the links, it showed me the pages of the books on the left pane, with additional things to do on the right pane. On the pages, anything with "Hardy Boys" were highlighted in yellow. That was something I didn’t like. Sometimes the pages are yellow with age, and yellow highlighting on yellow pages isn’t really noticeable. So a point down for that. Full screen mode is ok. It open up to the whole browser and includes page flip controls (backwards/forwards) and magnification (more/less). That’s about it. Back to the search results, I had some titles that only led me to see the basic info. of the book, like the author, publishing company, # of pages, ISBN, that kind of stuff, but with no readable pages. They give you links to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and that kind of stuff to buy and download. So it’s kind of useless. That’s all I could find to say about Google Books. It’s just mediocre and not really that interesting. It works fine, but it’s just seems really lackluster. So I decided to take a look at Windows Live Books.
Unlike Google Books’ nasty tactics, Microsoft actually asks publishers if they are interested in allowing their content to be found on Windows Live Books. Because of Microsoft’s nicer tactics, they have a ton of partners and publishers willing to work with them including: Cambridge University Press, McGraw Hills Cos Inc., Simon & Schuster (Hardy Boys publisher!), Yale University Press, MBI Publishing Company, and a ton of others, that can be seen right here (who by the way, wrote a very wonderful post about how Windows Live Books is better than Google books). I also decided to actually try Windows Live Books so here’s how it went:
The search is somewhat slower. I searched for "The Hardy Boys" again, and it seemed to take like 2-3 seconds for me, while Google only took .19 seconds. It probably has to do though, with the fact that the your search results pane and the reading pages pane are on the same page, and Windows Live chooses to use a more Web 2.0 UI so that both panes are viewable at the same time. So instead of updating that page, it’s more like updating each pane. Which is why it takes awhile. Also, spell-check doesn’t seem to work in Live Books. I typed "George Washigton" (no -n) and it didn’t correct me, just brought results. Same with "Betsy Ros" (no -r). Google however corrected both of them. So this is a point down for Live Books. The results overall are somewhat lacking. Both Windows Live Books and Google Books have lots of old books in them. So a search on Live Books of "The Hardy Boys" gave me a bunch of old books from a series called "The Rover Boys" but had some mention of "The Hardy Boys" in them. Weird. Unlike Google, all the books seem to have a cover. That is definitely awesome. The UI overall is nice. It’s endless scrolling. So you don’t have to click on page 1, 2, 3, 4, and on and on. It’s all on one page. The UI is much more cleaner. Google has tons of stuff pushed in. NO ADS. Definite plus. I like how Live Books has a pages status bar. There’s a measuring bar of all the pages in each book. On the bar there’s some green highlights, representing places in the book that are relevant to your search. Now that’s neat right there. I don’t have to read the whole thing, just a quik click on the green sections will take me there. Neat. If you do click on a certain book, it leads you to a reworking of the panes. Now on the left pane, it gives you the book’s details, search inside the book, and pages number’s with quotes that have to do with the individual book search. On the right pane, is the pages of the book itself, with controls and the pages status bar. A pretty good layout, if you ask me. Although the right pane doesn’t have the magnifying feature in Google Books, so you can magnify as to your needs. It only has the option to see the whole page on a gray background, or to see the whole page in the pane. I also like how key search words are highlighted in green on the pages, compared to Google’s hard to see yellow. That’s about it. Overall the experience is pretty good, but needs some brush up. Here’s some things that I wish Windows Live Books could do:
- Fix the homepage – The homepage is pretty simplistic. It just says Windows Live Books – Find a book, or search within a book. Enter keywords to begin. That’s it. Nothing more. Not that I want more, but is that all? Nothing to intrigue people or anything? The least they can do, is offer a tour of Live Books, just to help the people who aren’t used to stuff this way.
- Faster search query – I’m not the kind of person who really minds about result speed. As long as it doesn’t take longer than 8 seconds, then I’m ok. It can take around 2-5 seconds on Live Books, compared to Google Book’s less than a minute record. Though Live Books taking a long time has to do with using more advance web paging, and panes, it could still try to go more faster.
- Spell-check on search – There needs to be a spell check on Live Books search. I can’t see how I can type "George Washigton" and still get results without being told "Do you mean ‘George Washington’?"
- More complete inventory on books – I know how publishing companies, and all of them, have a hard time allowing their content to be seen freely on the Internet like that. While there were books on both services, there were some pages that were missing, because it was copyrighted and not allowed to be seen freely to the public. But could I at least see some of the latest books, instead of really old ones? So far, the only reasons I think you would search on any of these, is if you’re a historian who wants to look at old archives. None of it’s relevant to me, if it’s just a bunch of old books. At least have a summary of every known book, like author, publishing companies, number or pages, ISBN, that stuff and links to buy it and get, similar to what Google does, but with covers and more info. and more titles.
- More aesthetic page controls – While the looks of the page controls aren’t that important, a better look can complete the whole experience. The squashy square buttons aren’t that cool, even if they do turn a light shade of blue if you hover over them. I always thought that the controls could be similar to the ones that WMP 11 has. A play button for any possible audio in the book, forward/back buttons to flip the pages, volume control to possibly control any audio sounds in the book, and maybe a magnifying scale, similar to the one in Word 2007 to control how much you can see of the page. Putting those media controls would look absolutely awesome. Also it would be cool about hearing audio books on Live Books search. They would have the a completely compelling UI compared to Google’s if they could do this. (Note: I always wished that there would be an online store on WMP 11 that could provide e-books, or audio books, to use on WMP 11 controls. It would be awesome if they did.
- Bookmarking feature – Bookmark the pages that you like, or even a whole section. To bookmark a page, you just go to that certain page, and to do a section, you just drag your slider on the pages status bar to highlight that section to keep as a favorite. Awesome feature.
- Strong marketing for Live Books – I think Live Books is the future of book search. If the just add a big inventory of all books, better controls, spell check, and everything I already mentioned, then they would be fit to market this service. People will see it, and they’ll want it.
Live Books has strong potential here, compared to Google Books. I think Microsoft should capitalize on it more, and if they follow my suggestions, they’ll really have something there.