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.