Well, thanks to the folks over at Google Labs, doing book research just got a million times easier. Or maybe even a GOOGLE times easier. Ha! I kill me!
Anyways, there’s some super cool Google Books site up now where you can search through an electronic library of over 5 million books (so far) based on keywords, phrases, etc. The intended use appears to be for you to flip through their library and read reviews on a Kindle or other eBook reading device, then download something that appeals to you, and I’m already pretty excited about this function because the public domain books are free in the electronic universe, which they aren’t when you buy them at the bookstore. (In fact, given that the content is free, their prices are sometimes pretty outrageous, but “what the market will bear” is what you get, so what can you do? (Well, you can download a good classic novel like “A Christmas Carol” for free and read it before next week for one.)
But there is a more academic and entertaining use of their system. Google Labs has set up a little side project that allows you to look at word trends from their mighty library, which is useful if you want to look at when a particular slang term was in highest use, or when topics of interest came in or out of style, as shown in the literary forum. Given that the internet didn’t come into widespread use for the discussion of topics until the last 20 years, that’s probably going to give a pretty accurate idea of word trends over the last century or so. There’s an interesting article over on the New York Times website about the research implications of the project.
Personally, I could see a lot of uses already. Imagine your writing a book or paper about our new electronically connected age and you wanted to know when the word “internet” starting being popular. Instant feedback that the word didn’t really take off until about 1988, and then it REALLY took off. But what I thought was kind of cool is that you can play with it. Change the date parameters from 1998 to 1980 and see that weird spike between 1948 to 1956? What’s that about? Oh Google, there you go again, creating more questions than you answer, prompting me to stay up late researching nonsense that may or may not be useful at some point…
Anyways, it’s neat. This is your heads up. I’m off to download classic novels so I can make my daughter read some adventure books not written by Rick Riordan (not that I don’t find his books enjoyable, but he’s got nothing on Kipling.)