Monthly Archives: December 2010

Google’s eBookstore and Humanities 2.0

Google, the elephant in every room right now, is starting to see the rewards of its large-scale digitization project. First, the Google bookstore has opened up, fostering a potential rivalry with Amazon. From the minimal spot checking I’ve done of titles and price comparisons, Google and Amazon seem about evenly matched at about $9.99 a digital book. The main differences are the method of reading and accessing your works and what devices will or will not work with your new eBook. Amazon likes to have you download your work with the option of syncing information back to its cloud; Google wants you to read in the cloud and download only if necessary. Either way, both are designed for multi-platform reading so you can start your book on your iPad but then continue right where you left off in the book on your iPhone when stuck waiting at a doctor’s appointment, for example. In short, no more clunky carrying. However, the differences between the two remain in the platform accessibility. Google works with a lot of resources, but not some of the major players like Blackberries (WTF?!) and Amazon’s Kindle (less of shock here). Amazon’s establishment in the market and Google’s non-development of a hardware device still make Amazon the ubiquitous eBookstore. Further research TBDAG (To be done after grading).

The other, less flashy Google news is the growing use of the scanned Google books to develop what the New York Times calls Humanities 2.0 or the statistical analysis of work usage over time within works. Below is a sample of what you can do with such statistical analysis:

Having been a literature person, this trend actually isn’t that new. Pawing through concordances of Dante’s Commedia, such as Terrill Shepard’s, are still common in literary analysis these days. Through these methods, scholars have identified trends in word usage, such as having Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso all end with the word stelle (the Italian plural for stars). What a lovely way to end a poem about a religious epic? (And what a lovely name for a girl…). However, for works that have not be read millions of times after seven centuries, Google’s ability to digitize both major and minor works from the Victorian age and allow similar linguistic analysis has a vast potential with revolutionizing the world of literary research. However, I think the “Handle with Care” concept is also useful to make sure we don’t lose the art of literary analysis and criticism since statistics are only part of accessing a culture, a time, and a psyche of a character and author.   I’m intrigued to see how this vast plethora of information will continue to transform literature and what we think of as research today. What are your thoughts?  Is all of this a boon or a bust?

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