Could Google Catalogs be on its way back to being a useful service? According to this article: Google Revamping Catalog Search Section, from Multichannel Merchant the folks in Sunnyvale sent an auto-response to the magazine saying that Google is aware that the database hasn't been updated in a while (understatement) and their engineering team is working to restrcture the database and hopes to have new catalogs posted on the site in upcoming months. Well, I don't like being a cynic, but actions speak lounder than words, we will have to wait and see.
Currently, the Google Catalogs homepage lists 6,600 catalogs but doesn't list how many, if any, have been updated recently. For example, the L.L. Bean catalog in the database is from two years ago. The Dell catalog is from August, 2003. The 6,600 total catalog count has been online since early 2004.
Google Catalogs launched in January 2002 and allowed any merchant to submit their catalog for keyword searching. In other words, printed catalog would be coverted into machine-readable text and then be searched and browsed online. Very cool, useful, and maybe enviromentally friendly (save a tree). I always thought it could also be a profit center for Google. Consumers could search/browse online and then, if they purchase on order online or over the phone Google would get a cut.
I wouldn't at all be surprised if some of the concepts and scanning technqiues used for Google Catalogs are now being used for Google Print.
Around the same time, Amazon.com introduced Amazon Restaurants that allows users to keyword search menus from restaurants in several major cities. Most of the menus currently listed are out of date. No word if this VERY useful service might also return.