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Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos announced this week a remarkable new search function on the online bookseller’s site which allows you to look for key words and phrases in any of 120,000 books and then pull up any page where the reference occurs. Altogether, this involved digitizing some 33 million pages. Imagine a tool which does for the public library what Google does for the web.

I spent a few hours playing around with it last night and am simply blown away. Like all search engines, there are blind spots – both in terms of passages missed and entries pulled up which are just a little off target. But it is good enough to allow you to quickly identify relevant books on a topic or look up and find the precise page number for that quote you need to footnote with a high likelihood of finding the right passage.

There are a handful of digital tools which have really changed the ways I relate to traditional media. Amazon itself altered my relations to books; their sound samples and later Napster changed the way I related to music; Tivo changed my relations to television; Netflix changes the way I think about movies; and now, I see this search engine as a tool on about that same order of magnitude. (It is certainly something as an avid reader and writer I will expect to interact with on a daily basis and if you doubt its value to Amazon, I racked up a few hundred dollars worth of books last night, books which were totally relevant to my work but which I had never found using the existing browser functions on Amazon.)

Try it – You’ll like it!

Of course, the intellectual property issues here boggle the mind. We can expect some interesting dramas to play out in the coming months.

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