Comparisons are odious, and there's nothing scientific about this. And being an OCLC employee makes manifest my conflict of interest, but the release of WorldCat.org and new enhancements to Google Book Search moved me to do some quick and dirty comparisons. Disclaimer: I have not discussed this analysis with anyone at OCLC prior to blogging it, nor do I have any special knowledge about the development of WorldCat.org. I'm writing this as a not-disinterested user.
I tried a few searches on both, and a summary of results follows. Again, nothing systematic about this... I'm sure we'll see more extensive analysis very quickly. These services do, however, illustrate how organizations can sometimes be complementary, other-times competitive, and almost certainly co-evolutionary.
Search 1: Freakonomics
I chose this because it is the latest book I reviewed, and perhaps typifies a search-for-new-stuff-to-buy-or-borrow.
- 13 results:
- 12 english
- 1 french
The target is the top result. There were no duplicates, no non-English language versions (though there was a result in French). The non-target results appear to be resources that mention Freakonomics, and which thus might be very useful in a browsing sense: good fan-out to related resources. Cover art enhances the result set -- a definite plus. Links to other materials related to a given resource were very good: preview capabilities, table of contents, index, and about this book (which provides links to reviews, for example). These are great features that are currently not available via WorldCat, and which need to be in some manner if libraries are to offer a competitive Web presence in the long haul.
- 11 results
- English (4)
- Chinese (2)
- Danish (1)
- French (1)
- Korean (1)
- Portuguese (1)
Ten of the 11 are non-English language versions, or duplicates (three English language records that appear to be the same item). The 11th is a complete mystery to me. It seems to be in the field of economics, but has no obvious key in common with the search target.
No cover art, or rather, cover art becomes evident only at the item level, not in the search result set. Very useful sidebar next to the result-set allowing you to refine (or redefine) your search by author, content, format, language, year of publication. This ability to involute the database is very helpful and easy, and offsets to some degree not having the ancillary material that Google has (but not enough, in my opinion).
Search 2: Plato's Republic
Google 109,000 pages
Once again, cover art and other materials (much less advantageous in the case of a standard classic, I should think). The large catch reflects the search approach, I assume. The first page results includes several versions of the target, and other branch-points that might be useful to a reader. Do they mean 109,000 pages, or items?
Worldcat 590 results
The first page of the WorldCat search does not appear to have the search target, but rather, critical reviews, essays, and such. The sidebar becomes immediately useful... click on PLATO under authors, and you get various versions of the real deal, all authored by Plato. In this case, this is particularly important, because translations are very much unique works that will earn their own reputations and followings. The side bar says there are 22. CLick on it, and you get 31. Still, a pretty concise list of Platonics.
You can do an advanced search in Google Books, as well, filling in PLATO in the author field, which narrows the field to 22,700 pages. Really? Not very helpful.
OK, but the one I wanted is not in either set (well, perhaps buried in the 22,700, but that's not helpful). I'm looking for Allan David Bloom's translation, as a friend told me this is a really good one, and I know of Bloom's other work as well. Turns out that it's not on my list of 31 in WorldCat. I've been given the ISBN though, [0-465-06934-7], so I try that in the search box, and voilà. I have the single record I want. Why didn't I get it the first time? Because the title is The Republic of Plato, and my first search was on Plato's Republic. Where is FRBR when we need it?
How about in Google Books? The same ISBN 0-465-06934-7 gives me:
Huh? The quirkiness of ISBNs is well-known to librarians. I've encountered the problem a number of times... an alarming number of times, though not in a systematic way. I'm surprised that the problem surfaces in one service but not the other, though. Do the same ISBN search in plain Google, and you get desired book as the first of 17 results (the others are things such as course syllabi that cite the ISBN). Nowhere in this set is the above tome, willful, conscientious, or not. Sounds like a data integrity problem to me.
Worldcat seems to outperform Google Books here, and this is what one might expect, given that the search is much more in the conventional catalog-search idiom.
Search 3: The Jefferson Bible (by ISBN)
A final example that I've written about before and so wanted to try here. As I've related before, what is important about this little book to me is the introduction and afterward in the particular version I have in hand. So, the instance counts (for me) more than the work.
The verso of this volume lists two ISBNs:
The first ISBN takes me to a pair of duplicate records in WorldCat. There is no result in Google Books.
The second has no records in either service... not terribly surprising, given that its a paperback version of a book that is rather obscure to start with, and which is thus less likely to be cataloged by a library.
Some observations based on these brief explorations:
- Google Book's is a strong offering in the library catalog space, offering great features that WorldCat does not now offer. We need the Open Content Alliance, or something like it, in order to be a stronger player in this space, and we need to take full advantage of it. Google's digitization efforts are an important contribution to the information world, but the common good is better served by an open architecture that allows others to both create and capitalize on this value.
- Google is well positioned to create additional value through linkages to related information (again, OCA is the obvious pathway by which such value could be open to others).
- The WorldCat approach to refining a search seems superior to me... i don't have to fill in another set of fields (let alone click to a new page), and there are obvious selections made for me that allow me to initiate a new search in the sidebar. Involuting the database in this way has lots of great potential. Will people use it? Hard to tell. I'm guessing that it will be used modestly, but will be a strong asset for those who do. More of this, please.
- As libraries start to work out the last mile logistics, getting a book from the library via WorldCat.org will be as convenient as buying it online... and cheaper, of course (at least for the patron).
- Users will benefit from FRBRization of such services. Should The Republic of Plato have appeared within a search for Plato's Republic? Yeah, for sure. How realistic is it to expect that it can be achieved using economical approaches to FRBRization? Good question.
- Neither of these services embodies much of the so-called social software paradigm, though Google Books certainly has some of the elements in place (searching for reviews, for example). Social bibliography - reviews, tagging, recommender systems, and the like, will be a critical element of public bibliography, and the library community has some catchup to do here. I couldn't help but notice that the Google Books About this Book link seemed to have lots of Library Thing review links.
- And Identifiers. OCLC's permalinks (OCLC numbers embedded in a WorldCat link) go a long way towards the goal of a standardized, persistent, and succinct identifier for library content. As a blogger, I hope that the permalink might be displayed prominently at the top of each record, (a click away is further than it needs to be). It is far superior to a transactional link, and in fact, the lack of a permalink in Google Books seems an oversight (understandable, if your world-view is dominated by search hegemony).
- The ability to construct a useful identifier with an ISBN (or any other standard identifier, for that matter) is a Good Thing(tm). My brief examples here show that it is not without complications, though. I don't know the magnitude of the problem. It isn't obvious that the WorldCat search box is ISBN friendly, though it clearly is. Not sure if its important to make this explicit.
Who would have imagined a decade ago that bibliography would be newsworthy, and of broad public interest? It is, and its really great to have WorldCat at one's fingertips. The other guys are doing great stuff too. Bravo!
Image: A Marmot (I think) sunning himself or herself on Mt. Rainier, July 2006