Saturday, February 26, 2005


Formats for ISBN numbers, and Google autolink

The latest (beta) Google Toolbar autolink feature recognises ISBN numbers on web pages, and when asked to by the user, links those numbers to relevant information on that book.

There has been much discussion on the feature, fairly well summarised by Danny Sullivan, though much of the discussion has been far from objective. My one line summary is that consumers like the feature; vocal and unenlightened webpage publishers have objected to it - there are minor tweaks that would make it better for all concerned.

(I was also amused by this categorization of the type of web page authors who fear it!)

One area that I have not seen commented on is that the recognition of ISBN numbers is not very good.
Examples of ISBN numbers, to try the toolbar out on:
More info on ISBN numbers can be found at
Google have not provided a "publisher opt out", since the addition of links is not automatic, but requires a deliberate "consumer opt in" action. Unfortunately this has led to stupid actions by some publishers, notably Barnes and Noble. They now turn all ISBNs on their pages into links automatically - which gives the stupid circular link problem, where you are viewing a page and it contains links to itself. I'm sure this means that B+N have shot themselves in the foot - people who used to use their site will now stop doing so, because their navigation no longer makes sense.

Thats a shame - B+N search was actually better than Amazon's in that it copes with spaces in ISBNs, whereas Amazon's fails to find anything on the Amazon site - but interesting then offers web search results that point to the given book at competitors sites!

The correct reaction by B+N should be to contact Google, to ensure that the autolink feature can be configured to link to them if thats what the user prefers, much as the mapping autolink can already be configured to use Google Maps or even the competitor Yahoo maps. Google have made it clear that more configuration options are very likely - I hope that this is made totally user configurable so that the autolink technology merely provides the "recognition" half of the task - the "what to link to" can then be user configured, so that solutions like linking ISBNs to your local library are possible.

Note that the autolink also fails to work for any pages loaded using the file protocol. I think Google should fix this - content is content, so why should the protocol used to load the page make a difference.

Update: 5/3/05

A good way to find web pages with ISBNs on them is to do a google search for the phrase "isbn * * * 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|0|x"

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