Sore Shoulder, Amazon Breaks New Ground

:: My right shoulder and arm were examined today by a doctor with a specialty in sports medicine. Turns out my shoulder is somewhat out of whack – can’t give you much more of an explanation than that. My muscles, rotator cuff, and so on, are ok, but the shoulder blade is out of alignment, bulging a bit at my back. I will need physiotherapy. Unfortunately my first appointment is on November 12th, so in the meantime, I’m getting a massage and stocking up on pain killers.

:: Amazon.com announced last Thursday that it is making the full-text of ~120,000 books (>33,000,000 pages), searchable to its customers. The searching is done at the same level as a title or author search. So I took the book Moonwatcher’s Memoir by Dan Richter, flipped it open to a random page (116), read the phrase “some Velcro slipping” in a sentence, typed that phrase into the Amazon search window, and boom, the first item retrieved was Richter’s book, with a link to p116, where it found the phrase. What was interesting was how fast the results appeared, in less than five seconds. Given the size of the db, 33 million pages, never mind how many words, I was very impressed that it found the one book with the phrase so quickly. The search algorithm retrieved other books and pages with the words “some“, “Velcro“, and “slipping“, but not the phrase itself.

However, I tried three times to retrieve the text of the page, and finally received a response; I suspect Amazon’s servers are burning a lot of coal right now, trying to keep up with the new service. So to see the page that contained the phrase, I had to wait over 10 minutes. Once the page with the phrase you searched appears, you can browse two pages on either side of that page in the book.

This is an impressive feat on Amazon’s part. Within my profession, a growing number of full-text databases exists, mostly of primary and secondary journal literature, along side a smaller number of databases which offer the full-texts of monographs, such as books24x7. None of the book dbs remotely approach the content of Amazon’s 120,000 books. It’s a unique feature that will no doubt increase sales. Amazon’s customers now have another powerful search tool to retrieve books (and CDs, DVDs, etc) of interest to them while browsing and searching. The question is: how quickly will their competitors move to offer a similar feature to their web sites?

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