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Amazon’s new ‘search inside the book’ feature

By October 27, 2003websites

Amazon announced that it has scanned 120,000 books which will allow people to search for terms inside of those books (see explanation of how it works). Some people heralded this as “revolutionary.” I figured it was useful, but not revolutionary.

Well, I’m starting to think that it is at least “incredibly useful.” For example, William Safire’s On Language column in yesterday’s New York Times was about former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson’s use of the phrase “frog-marched” in reference to Karl Rove.

Safire pointed out that Wilson didn’t really know what the term meant (“Wilson’s own understanding of the phrase he popularized was ‘two guys, one on either side, marching somebody out.”). I was wondering how this term had been used in popular literature, and that’s when it occurred to me to use the new Amazon feature. And I pulled up a bunch of examples, including this one. Okay, now I get it. I can search literature using Amazon in the same way I can search the web using Google. Like I said, that could be incredibly useful.

Wired has a good article on the new Amazon feature that suggests it is indeed revolutionary. Apparently, however, not everyone is a fan of this useful/revolutionary service. That includes Professor Bainbridge.

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  • lk says:

    Thanks for looking up frog march. I wondered what it meant. It seems every aspect of Wilson is being scrutinized, including his use of language. “He didn’t know the phrase meaning, so outing his wife was OK.” Next it’ll be he has an unpaid parking ticket… The issue is crime and punishment. Was it a crime? Who did it?

  • Hi Ernie. As a researcher, I have to agree: it is incredibly useful. It will help me satisfy law review editors insatiable desire for citations. As an author of low volume reference works, however, I am very afraid it will evsicerate my already modest sales. Students (and lawyers!!) will be able to download up to 20% of the text in any given month. Over the course of a semester, which typically crosses 4-5 months, a single student could download the entire text. A couple of students banding together could do so even faster. So I’m worried.

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