Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Google Notebook

In their quest to organise ALL the information in the world, Google (and other companies involved in the search-business) are doing great services to scientists and students, who often spend most of their time trying to find and organise information. And often, the crucial info turns up too late: as the article or thesis is being submitted, a random search produces hits of previous research that should be referred to. In the worst case, the stuff you find last minute demonstrate your approach wrong or second-grade, or at least not as innovative and unique you thought it to be. Nobody likes to make major changes last minute (or after), and while everyone is aware that there is no way they can find all the relevant information, researchers like to think they've got the major parts.

Google entered the "academic market" with their Google Scholar, a search engine that searches databases of scientific publications, providing links to abstracts and full-texts (which you of course can access only if your institution has the subscription to the services it links to). Google Scholar saves time, as it searches several sources at the same time. It still has a bit to go in terms of integrating the search results to a form where they can be manipulated and downloaded to citation managers, but it's great in finding what there is.

Google Books has been in the centre of a debate over digital copyrights, as have been other similar initiatives to digitise books and publish them in searchable form in the net. In spite of its limitations, I've found this service useful for the purpose of quickly checking the reference or quote I vaguely recall, and verifying the "correctness" of other people's quotes, especially if I think they are being misquoted or quoted out of context.

Now another product hits the campuses, and why not homes as well. Google Notebook. It's a beta-version, i.e. not a finished product but a test version, which in Google lingo means it is available through "Google Labs". (Actually, Google Scholar and Google Books are also beta versions, although they've been around for longer). You download a little item to your toolbar (for those using Firefox, as you all should, it's just another extension that shows up as a icon in your browser bottom bar) and you are ready to go. While you browse the net, you can highlight stuff and by clicking "add" in your notebook toolbar, add that text, picture and the link of the source to a notebook for later use.

This is brilliant, and I've unknowingly wanted one of these for long. I've done my explorations by arduously copying stuff from browser to TextPad or Word, with the result that some text is huge, some tiny, and all tables look skewed and corrupt. And then I often have to copy the links separately, and of course I can't be bothered with the pictures. Naturally, the Google notebooks that users have made public are searchable by everyone, and your private notebooks are searchable by you. Good stuff, having just downloaded this thing makes me feel I accomplished something worthwhile today! :-)

1 comment:

wom said...

I'm loving Google Notebook, I got the Firefox extension to use with it and it's great. I can organize all I wanna save on the web easily.