ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Google Catalogs, RIP —

I’m rather conflicted about the death of Google Catalogs, an excellent tech demonstration by Google of reading and browsing through catalogs of all stripe, implementing near-seamless searching of the content via OCR, so you could search for, say, “tuna hat” and if any of their catalogs (which went into the hundreds) had a tuna hat, you would see it instantly, along with a contextual shot of the catalog page with this text. I mean, that’s pretty amazing. It blew me away back in 2001 when I saw it. It was like magic.

I know the story of this being a side project scanned in a back room at Google and that it grew in attention and space and eventually had a pretty amazing site going. I know, on a historical basis, that these catalogs are themselves historically interesting. Maybe I’m weird that way, but if you browse, for example, the Shelburne Holiday Catalog from decades ago, you can find in it all sorts of perspective on consumer electronics, the process of selling these items, and all the attendant history of that 1983 period. It makes me sad to think all these scanned catalogs will now disappear, although I’m sure within the context of google it will not disappear. We just won’t get to see it.

But having said this and having been sad about the prospect of Google Catalogs’ impending death (and hey, nice 24 hour fucking warning, guys) is the other secret situation, which is Google totally dropped the ball on that site.

The LAND’S END catalog, a constantly updating entity if there ever was one, wasn’t updated for years. Many of them hadn’t been updated for years. The weblog entry that announces the closure indicates that it “hasn’t been as popular as some of our other products”, well fucking yeah. If your site is about catalogs and you don’t update the catalogs for years then people tend not to go to you for catalogs. The “popularity” they speak of is internal popularity, the willingness of people within the company to allocate resources for the somewhat unsexy prospect of scanning catalogs.

They could have opened connections with companies to send them TIFF or JPG files directly. They COULD have offered PDFs. They COULD have set up something where they got some money for doing all this service. But they didn’t and I’m not in the Second-Guess Google’s Business Model business.

But I’m right. The shine is off the apple, the bloom is off the rose. I’m really glad I got to see it before things turned grey and I have one or two very specific people to thank for that; I will never forget it.

I think we have some interesting time ahead.

Oh, and P.S., I’m adding 12 gigabytes of product manuals to today.

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