Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2004 Issue

Google’s Froogle: Is It There Yet?

Froogle finds many copies and editions of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad.


First and foremost, Froogle is not a book listing site. It is not like Abebooks, Amazon or Alibris. It is more like AddAll, Bookfinder, or Used Book Search. These are meta search engines which search the book listing sites like Abe and Alibris and give you the combined results from all of these sites. You don’t list your books on AddAll. AddAll finds them because you listed those books on one of the 16 sites they visit. Likewise, you cannot list your books on Froogle. You can only list them somewhere else and invite Froogle to find them. That is similar to the AddAll formula. But surely Froogle, with the search technology of Google behind it, and the ability to search far more sites than sixteen, will do a better job. Again, not so fast.

There are limitations that come with Froogle’s essentially search engine technology. Remember, Froogle is a shopping site, not a book site. It is designed to find anything that’s for sale on the internet. Therefore, it can’t be specifically targeted for finding books. So, while Google may find more pages in total from the internet than just about anyone else, it does not find the most book listings. For example, Google/Froogle can only find listings that involve clicking on links. It cannot find listings that require you to type some words into a search box to find them. Now if you are a book site specific search engine like AddAll, you can design your program to take the words your visitor has entered in your search box and retype them into the search boxes of each book listing site you search. This is how AddAll finds listings on Abebooks, Alibris, and 14 other used book sites. Froogle cannot do this, since most of the sites it searches (non-book sites) don’t have author and title, etc., search boxes into which it can enter information. So, it only looks at what it can see without typing words in a search box.

It’s not that Froogle doesn’t want to find these listings. It even provides a form where you can enter listings to help it find them in case it cannot find them on its own. However, if the book site does not wish to go to the trouble of making sure its listings are compatible with Froogle’s technology, or maybe doesn’t even want Froogle to find them, then Froogle will not. This is why Froogle, which views many more sites than AddAll, does not find nearly as many listings. You can put up a site which lists 500 books, notify Froogle and conform to their requirements, and Froogle will find your books. AddAll will not find them unless you also post them on one of the sixteen sites they visit. However, since Abebooks’ 50 million listings do not conform to Froogle’s requirements, but can be searched by AddAll, that’s a 50 million books head start that AddAll has on Froogle. It would take an awful lot of small book sites to make up that difference.

Next, there is an advantage that the book listing sites have over any meta search that searches for more products than just books. The book listing sites were designed specifically for books. Froogle was not. It was designed to help sell practically everything: electronics, flowers, food, toys, car parts, sporting goods, etc., and, of course, books. Would you have a field for author or title in a book search engine? Undoubtedly. For publisher or publication date? Maybe. How about in something that also searches for flowers and food? Would you have a field for author and title? Not likely. So score one major advantage for the book sites. What Froogle can offer is essentially a keyword search. Compare that with an Abebooks or Alibris where you can narrow your search to a particular title by a particular author published in a certain year by a specific publisher. Froogle cannot do this. The only fields that can be separately searched on Froogle are product name and product description. Abebooks and Alibris allow you to search author, title, ISBN, publisher, date and keywords, or any combination of them. With Froogle it’s product name, description, or both. For a very rare title, a keyword search may be sufficient. If it’s a classic book with many later reprints, finding an early one can be very difficult with Froogle’s limitations. Interestingly, the meta book search sites are also fairly limited, offering only title, author and keywords. Evidently the different fields offered by the various book listing sites they search limit them to searching only the basic fields that all book sites offer.

Rare Book Monthly

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