Tag Archives | Google Books

Spy Comes to Google Books (Speaking of Which: We Need a Google Magazines)

In a shocking instance of dereliction of duty, I’ve failed until now to mention the best tech-related news of 2011 (so far): Last week, Google added Spy magazine–“The New York Monthly”–to the ever-growing collection of magazines available for free in Google Books. (According to Spy co-founder Kurt Andersen, half the issues are up now and the rest are on their way.)

When Spy debuted in 1986, its quirky, snarky, endlessly inventive sensibility was unique. It soon influenced just about every other magazine on the planet, and you can still spot traces of its attitude everywhere. In fact, the entire blogosphere has a Spy-like feel, including reams of stuff written by people who have never read the magazine and might not even be aware of its existence.

Spy made an indelible impression on me: In fact, browsing through Google’s archive, I immediately identified the first issue–October 1987–which I ever encountered, and remembered perusing it at my desk during lunch.

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Yes, Google is Doing e-Books

It hasn’t been exactly a well-guarded secret, but now it’s official: Google is launching an e-book store to compete with Amazon’s Kindle store and its rivals. The company isn’t selling an e-reading device of its own–instead, it’s focusing on selling digital books and making them widely available for existing hardware. I haven’t tried its new offerings yet, but it gave me a sneak peek at the news last week.

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LIFE is Good!


I’m not sure how I managed to miss this, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the month’s best tech-related news. On Wednesday, Google announced that Google Books has published the entire run of the most famous incarnation of LIFE magazine–almost 1900 issues, spanning 1936 to 1972. It’s the perfect complement to Google Images’ astonishing LIFE photo archive, and as useful a reference work on several eventful decades of American history as we’re going to get in one place.

The only downer is a basic undeniable fact that Google can’t do anything about: LIFE was an oversized tabloid-format publication–taller than it was wide–and computer displays are defiantly horizontal, and limited in resolution. Reading LIFE in your browser feels a little like scanning through issues using a virtual microfilm machine, despite conveniences such as thumbnails of pages and a zoom feature. (Tip: For the best reading experience, choose the full-screen mode and the facing-pages view, then zoom the magazine to fill the screen. You’ll still have to squint a little, but it’ll be worth it.)

Okay, Google Books does offer one feature that makes its LIFE archive infinitely more useful than microfilm could ever be: full-text searching of the magazine’s entire history. That’s how I’m finding gems like this 1963 feature on Polaroid’s first 60-second film and this 1964 ad for a Sony TV with a four-inch screen. There are still things about Google Books’ interface I don’t understand, such as why there doesn’t seem to be any browsable list of magazine titles that would make it easier to locate a particular publication. (LIFE is plastered all over over the Google Book home page at the moment, but when they bump it for something else it’ll be surprisingly difficult to find.) I also can’t figure out a way to search a particular publication, then sort the results by date. (I wanted to see when LIFE first mentioned computers, a topic it would cover heavily over the years.)*

But I feel guilty for being critical here–LIFE on Google Books may not be perfect, but that doesn’t prevent it from being sheer joy.

*I just figured out how to do this–it involves using advanced search and then entering the name of the magazine in a field confusingly labeled “Return books with the title.” Which brings up a question: Should all the magazines currently living in Google Books be spun off into something called Google Magazines?