Amazon Search Needs Work

by john on October 25, 2003

Everyone else is commenting on Amazon’s new Search Inside the Book feature so I guess I’ll throw my hat in the ring too. First of all, it’s an incredibly ambitious project. And one that I can see will definitely be useful when working well. Which it isn’t, yet.

Here’s an example. This morning I needed to quote an excerpt from one of my favorite stories in literature, the “Biscuit Story” from Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. In the past I would have used Google for this search as it is the sort of story someone would surely have retyped and posted somewhere on the web. But the prospect of ensuring a 100% accurate quote coming from a scanned page on the world’s foremost book store? What a perfect use of Amazon’s new search function.

Now I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t RTFM on Amazon so it is completely possible this isn’t the best way to formulate the search, but this format works on Google so I expect it to work else. I searched for arthur dent biscuit train. The first result in the list was a book on Sherlock Holmes. The next was a book on King Arthur. A quick scan of the first page revealed nothing from Douglas Adams. The “Sort by” feature has no new values that make sense when using search, and there isn’t a quick way that I can see to further filter the list on author or any other attribute.

Of course trusty Google gave me exactly what I was looking for in the top two results for arthur dent biscuit train.

If you haven’t read the book and don’t know the story, check out the Fun_People archive page and search for the second instance of Douglas Adams on the page. Right below that is what appears to be a faithful retyping of the story. One of my all time favorites.

Search Inside the Book is going to be a great resource and continues to widen the gap between on-line and brick and mortar bookstores. While I doubt the feature itself will result in a noticeable direct impact to sales I do think it is just another reason why people will think of Amazon first when it comes time to buy a book. And that’s smart business.

[UPDATE] – After writing this up I looked a little more on Amazon and found that this book is not on the list of scanned books, so that is no doubt the reason why I didn’t find it – not something wrong with Amazon’s search. Still, knowing that Amazon is not going to be comprehensive I still will be starting my searches on Google.


Justin October 26, 2003 at 1:06 pm

Bad news, you might want to check out Slashdot (that’s where I saw it). Apparently the Authors Guild has said that the publishers have no rights to allow Amazon to index the texts like that, and it seems Amazon might have to shut that feature down. 🙁

Joe Grossberg October 27, 2003 at 9:43 am

And now you’re the #1 Google result.

It’s the Heisenberg principle of blogging — you can’t comment on a Google search without affecting that search.

Joe Grossberg October 31, 2003 at 12:26 pm

Hey John … when I got the email confirmation for your response, it linked to:

instead of:


Henry December 22, 2003 at 3:04 pm

I can’t beleive it!

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