The Google blog 'Inside Google Book Search' announced in No holds bard that it is now possible to explore Shakespeare with Google - The complete plays of Shakespeare now at your fingertips. Well no, not exactly. I've spent some time playing around with this resource and it's less than impressive for a number of reasons.
I decided to take a look at the full text of a couple of plays, but in common with Philipp Lenssen found that I couldn't actually see the full text. All that I got was a fairly brief page with some bibliographic data, an opportunity to buy the book and links to related information. I went through each section in turn and found that in total I could read 13 of the plays Google listed, but was unable to do so for another 24. This may be in part due to the fact that I'm in the UK, and as the Google blog comments in an update some versions of the plays are not in the public domain everywhere in the world, so we can only see snippets.
I simply do not believe that Google could not have found versions of the plays that are out of copyright, particularly as they are keen for us to have the complete plays at our fingertips. However, I'll let that pass. What I really find unforgivable is their section 'Other ways to explore Shakespeare'. This gives me options to look for more resources, take a scholarly perspective, connect with enthusiasts and so on. Clicking on any of these links runs a default search for 'shakespeare'. Consequently with most of these options I get a huge number of results, many of them inappropriate. A search just on 'shakespeare' is the kind of basic search that I'd expect a school child to do once. I find it amazing that someone at Google could not have come up with rather more interesting and complex searches to fully utilise the power of the search engine, not only to give us a good search result, but also to show us just what it can do.
The concept is a great one; full marks to Google for having a go at it. The result is very much less than perfect, and for Google to say that they're making Shakespeare more accessible is in my opinion boardering on disingenuous.