Maps Added to Google Books

January 30, 2007 | 8 2 min read

The result isn’t that flashy, but Google’s addition of Maps to its Google Book Search points to the promise of digitizing books. As we have seen with the layers of data that Amazon has added to its database – things like Statistically Improbable Phrases and Capitalized Phrases – digitization of books makes it easy for people to draw connections between books. But digitization also allows for layers of explanatory and reference data to be made easily accessible.

Of course, there have long been annotated editions of many books, but in those cases we are limited by the editors’ decisions on what material deserves greater explanation and what material stands on its own. With the Internet placing a universe of information at our fingertips, it is now easy for readers and scholars (especially those with access to library databases) to supplement their reading with background information and to find related texts. But sites like Google Books promise to make this process even easier and more fruitful by allowing the books themselves, in their digitized form, to be analyzed and enhanced.

In its own modest way, adding Maps to Google Books is an example of this. Have a look at the Google Books page for Around the World in 80 Days (scroll down to see the map). Having the map there adds something to the experience of this geography-centric novel, and it’s not much of leap to wonder if a similar system might be able to pull in related images (say, hot air balloons of that era) or contemporary newspaper reviews of the book. The possibilities are almost endless, and, though one must always make the point that such technology is meant to enhance and not replace our beloved paper books, further exploration down this road would be a great thing for literature and learning.

On the subject of maps, specifically, as a map lover, I’m excited to see Google trying this out because, like Jerome Weeks, I believe that nearly every book would benefit from the addition of a map or two.

created and edits The Millions. He is co-editor of the collection of essays The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, called "funny, poignant, relentlessly thought-provoking" by The Atlantic. He and his family live in New Jersey. If you'd like to correspond, please don't hesitate to email.

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the link Max, that's (another) cool new feature at Google. Sure wish I had bought that stock!

  2. I also love maps. When I was in Iraq, using maps and GPS every day, I read "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer. The book was sent in a care package to the unit. Also in the care package was a National Geographic about Mount Everest (I don't think it was intentional.) The magazine came with a complete topographical map that included many traditional routes and locations of the base camps. Using the map while reading the book make me realize that "Into Thin Air" should have come with a map. It was great and deeply enhanced the reading process.

    I love that Google has done this. Thanks for the link.

  3. I, too, love maps. My personal library has always had a shelf of atlases. (Or is it atlasi?) However, as an author, I am still concerned about Google (and other Internet companies) digitizing books. The Internet audience is getting so very used to accessing almost everything for free. If that happens, how will writers and other creators make a living. And, as I mentioned in a recent journal entry, if the profit motive no longer exists for artists and other innovators, what will be the effect on our society and our economy?

  4. Many have have argued, as I have, that making books available so that they (or snippets thereof) can be browsed by readers actually helps sell more books.

    People must find out that a book exists before they become interested in buying, and Google is only making this process easier. If people were all that interested in printing off pirated copies of books, it would already be an epidemic. After all, photocopying technology has been around for years and yet I have never seen a pirated copy of a book and I doubt that very many other people reading this have either. Publishing companies are mad at Google because they want control over the process, and they have co-opted writers and creators by using scare tactics to convince them that it's in their best interest to oppose Google.

    We let people go into Barnes & Noble or the library and read books "for free" all day. Thank goodness the publishing industry isn't threatened by this or we wouldn't be able to do that either.

  5. Max: I certainly don't disagree with your reasoning. And it should work that way. But the fact is that writers who have been making a decent living are finding it more difficult to get assignments and sell articles these days.

    Now, it isn't only because of the Internet. There are many other issues involved, including the Wall Street take over of magazine publishing, which we can go into at another time. However, the Internet is one factor.

    How it will impact on book publishing is yet to be seen. I can't help but be concerned.

  6. Certainly I agree with you that this isn't an easy time to be a journalist or writer, but I fail to see how digitizing books has anything at all to do with it.

    Probably the biggest issue is Wall Street pushing publicly traded media companies to cut costs and boost the bottom line, which makes it tough to invest in editorial staffs at newspapers and tough for midlist authors to get the promotional dollars they need.

    Google, meanwhile, is making it easier for writers to find an audience (or for the audience to find writers). If we can all agree that there's not some kind of book pirating epidemic going on, I fail to see how Google is harming writers.

    And perhaps the Internet is making it tough for writers because people have so many more ways to entertain themselves now rather than reading books, but the solution to that is not to try to stop the Internet, it's to get on there so kids grow up actually knowing what a book is.

    To me, it's as though the publishing industry is trying to make itself obsolete.

  7. I must be living under a rock, because I hadn't heard of this yet. How interesting! Thanks so much for posting this.

  8. I spent over an hour last week looking online for an edition of "Roughing It" by Mark Twain that included a map or maps of the route he took across 1860s America by stagecoach to Nevada Territory. No luck. So your alert about the Google Bookmap search was welcome, Max, but it appears they haven't mapped "Roughing It" yet (nor apparently a lot of books — http://booksearch.blogspot.com/2007/01/books-mapped.html). What would really be cool is if they included maps relevant to the time a book was written — ex: a map of the U.S. showing what towns existed in early 1860s that Twain might have passed through, and maybe some guess as to their size (but Google doesn't do that even now on its Maps page — you don't get a population reading as you place your cursor over a location. I know there's not a big demand for that sort of feature, but as long as I'm wishing…). Thanks for the link, I'll keep checking it anyway (and keep looking for a printed edition of "Roughing It" with its own map(s) from the era).

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