Full text search on Amazon

by Rob Flickenger

I admit it. Despite having ample private indicators, trends, and statistics on just how well my books are doing, I still hit amazon.com every now and again and search for my name. There's just something cool about seeing the live page rank of something I wrote, particularly when people are actively talking about it.

Imagine my surprise the other day when searching for "flickenger", I suddenly got 20 or so results (rather than the four I usually see). Apparently, amazon was searching not only for title and author, but was grep'ing the actual content of some of its books.

There I read about a Flickenger who was a pilot in WWII, whose B-17F ("Werewolf") went down in fiery glory. Then there was LTCOL Don Flickenger (not the same man?) who was a pioneer of pararescue in 1943. There are also references to doctors, anthropologists, chemical engineers, and environmentalists who all share my (fairly unique) last name, but none of whom I've ever met.

Then, just as I went to show this crazy new feature to a friend, it suddenly disappeared. Apparently, a beta test got leaked to the production servers for a couple of hours, and I happened to get lucky.

Well, it seems that the feature has just gone live. As of today, Amazon allows full-text search for many of its titles.

It's an eerie ability, sort of an extension of the omniscient feeling one gets when digging around in google or the Internet Archive. It extends easy search capabilities to printed material, which fights the old addage about grepping dead treees. Of course, you're limited to a subset of Amazon's catalog (and not every book ever printed), but it's still an insanely useful feature.

With Amazon's web services initiative, it could lead to all sorts of interesting implications. Imagine if your local library had the ability to search the entire contents of its store of books, quickly and free of charge, and not only told you instantly which books were relevant, but offered to deliver them to your door for a reasonable fee. Good heavens.

If you could do a full text search on every book ever written, what would you use it for?


2003-10-24 17:55:14
Great feature--NOT
I've written 14 books, and when I used to search for Mitch Tulloch (no quotes) or "Mitch Tulloch" on Amazon, I'd get 14 hits. Now when I search for Mitch Tulloch I get 57 hits while "Mitch Tulloch" gives only 5. I don't know whether to laugh or cry...