In the past 24 hours or so one of Google's most useful and different tools went offline for what appears to be a retooling. The Google Catalogs site, once home to more than 6,600 scanned (see MSN Cache), full text, searchable, and browsable catalogs is not currently available. However, the Google Catalog site does say the service is being updated and will be "up and running again shortly."
I have a hunch (no official word whatsoever) that it will not be very long as Google is still asking merchants to send in their catalogs for free scanning.
Google Catalogs is/was not only useful (save a tree kind of thing) but also a great demo of ocr scanning technology that I would think has some place in the Google Book Search/Google Library Project. Google Catalogs went live in and hit the 6000 catalog mark in May 2003. It has been very evident that the database had not been updated in quite a long time. For example, back in May of 2004 I posted on ResourceShelf about how out of date so many of the catalogs were and asked if the service was kaput. Well, some 13 months later it looks like works is being done to bring the service back.
Since we're on the topic of useful scanned material, I hope Amazon.com does some updates and expansion of their restaurant menu scanning program. Very useful.
Google Catalogs debuted in December 2001. Stay tuned!