Google Books may be mired in controversy, but that isn't stopping Google from regularly adding new features to the service. Today, Google Books received a major update, with seven new and useful features, including the ability to easily embed a book into a blog post, better search within books, easier access to tables of content, and a way to turn pages, as well as an improved Book Overview page.
Better Search Within Books
Maybe the two most noticeable new features are the improved search within books and the new way to turn pages. Before, searching within a book was already one of the most useful features of Google Books, but search results were only displayed in a small sidebar. Now, after this update, search results appear in their context in a list of short snippets from the text. In addition, instead of just seeing results sorted by page number, Google Books can now also sort results by relevance.
As for scrolling through books, a transparent bar at the bottom of the page now allows you to turn pages by just clicking the page turn button. We are not quite sure how useful this is going to be for users on a desktop machine, but this might turn out to be quite a boon for users on laptops and netbooks who don't use an external mouse with a scroll wheel.
Embedding, Table of Contents, Nicer Book Overview Page
Embedding books is also a nice new feature (developers were able to do this with the help of Google's APIs already), as well as the ability to access a drop-down menu with a book's table of contents. For out-of-copyright books, the Google Books team also made the plain text mode easier to find and read.
The new layout for the Book Overview page is also quite nice. In addition to all of this, Google has now moved the sidebar with additional information about a book to the left of the page (it used to be on the right), probably in order to bring the Google Books design in line with the rest of Google's search products.
Overall, this is a nice update for Google Books. There are no spectacular new features here, but better search within books is going to make a big difference for Google Books' usability, and the rest of the new features are good, evolutionary updates of Google Books.