Dive into the meme pool with Google Book Search

Thursday, September 06, 2007 at 6:12 AM

We've been working on ways to help you dive in and explore interesting ideas and connections in books. Today we're pleased to announce Popular Passages, a way to follow the literary memes* that appear again and again in the world of books.

With the full text of millions of books digitized, we started thinking about how people quote and build on eachother's ideas. Like Bartlett putting together the Familiar, the Google Book Search team has been uncovering a vox populi of passages that authors have deemed worth repeating. Take, for example, Eleanor Roosevelt's book, You Learn by Living, in which she describes how her experiences helped shape her personal philosophy. On the "About this Book" page, you'll see it has 10 Popular Passages. One of them, "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience," appears in over a hundred books in the index. Wow.

Of course, hypertext researchers like Ted Nelson also have a history of connecting texts using links. Following in that tradition, we use links to highlight popular ideas in a book, or to lead readers to Schopenhauer when they're struggling with Kant. We hope that this new feature inspires you, helping you trace the evolution of great ideas like these:
"...a text that is henceforth no longer a finished corpus of writing, some content enclosed in a book or its margins, but a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces. Thus the text overruns all the limits assigned to it so far..."
- Jaques Derrida Popular passages (1954-2007)
"We know now that a text consists not of a line of words, releasing a single 'theological' meaning (the 'message' of the Author-God), but of a multidimensional space in which are married and contested several writings, none of which is original: the text is a fabric of quotations, resulting from a thousand sources of culture."
- Roland Barthes Popular passages (1972-2007)

If you're excited about sharing the ideas and quotes you discover, check out this post by our intern, Manas Tungare. He describes another new feature for Book Search -- one that lets you easily clip and publish passages from public domain books on your blog or website.
* In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins writes: "Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain." Popular passages (1955-2007)


No comments: