Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Google News Archive Search: History Becomes Content (with ads)

Google has launched Google News Archive Search, a new search tool that searches through historical archives from sources such as newspapers that Google and its partners have digitized or through existing online archival material that Google has crawled. For some, access is free, others fee-based.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect is how Google has taken historical archives and transformed it into accessible content.

I remember the days (and nights) sitting in the library in front of a big, bulky microfilm machine, squinting at the screen, and cursing under my breath as the film got tangled in the spool or when I simply could not find what I was looking for.

Ah yes, the good old days.

But in spite of those drawbacks, there was something wonderful, perhaps even magical, in turning the spool and watching all those images from newspapers dating back to the early 1900s (or even earlier) pass by, reading headlines that still have as much impact as they did on the day when the paper was printed.

Now, Google News Archive Search provides a similar experience via the Web.

Without a doubt, I am impressed. I am impressed by the digitization workmanship and the delivery mechanism. In the past, I performed large-scale scanning (historical photographs) and coordinated imaging projects (documents) and I know how difficult these projects can be, particularly in achieving high scan quality (readability) and searching (optical character recognition). It is difficult to achieve respectable results in both of these critical areas, but Google has managed to create very good quality output.

The delivery mechanism is equally impressive. After selecting an item from the results page, the new webpage divides into three windows: A large primary window to display the section of the newspaper with the searched keywords or article headline; a smaller window displaying a macro view of the newspaper; and below another small window displaying related links and (by God, no) Google Ads.

The large, primary screen is equipped with several useful page navigation tools, including Zoom In/Zoom Out, Full Screen, and Fit to Height. Meanwhile the small screen reminds me of another Google service, Google Maps. Imagine the newspaper is a map. The smaller screen has a little blue highlight box that can be moved around the page, magnifying the location in the large, main screen. The related window pane offers some helpful related links and a few ads.

Seeing Google's ads leaves me with mixed feelings, I must admit. Is historical content but another platform upon which Google can append its ads?

As a proponent for making content (historical or otherwise) more accessible (Lord knows, I've done my fair share of work in this area), I definitely support Google's initiative and urge people to test and evaluate the service for themselves.

But I want Google News Archive Search users to experience the magic in viewing the past, the stories that defined and continue to define our world, without seeing the sight of crass consumerism (i.e. Google Ads) on the screen. My only consolation is that the ads are not intrusive.

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about the author

I am an information professional, researcher, and writer with over eight years experience in the information services field with experience in information and communication technology.

I have a B.A. in History and a Master's in Library and Information Studies and working on a Web and Multimedia Design certificate.

I believe that empowering people with information can enrich lives and transform the world.