January 18, 2022

Remember the Google Catalogs Service? It's Back As an iPad App

Google Catalogs (web version) debuted in December, 2001 and was available until early 2009. It taught the company a lot about mass digitization (scanning, readability, how to handle documents, etc.) that they have applied to book digitization. For its time, it was very cool.

Here’s the Google Catalogs homepage from December 17, 2001 and the Google Catalogs help page from June 2, 2002.

Amazon.com offered a similar service where they provided accessed to scanned restaurant menus. It began on May 31, 2002. Here’s the homepage from back then.

When Google ended the experiment (what Google Catalogs was considered) in January, 2009 they wrote:

Catalog Search hasn’t been as popular as some of our other products. So tomorrow, we’re bidding it a fond farewell and focusing our efforts to bring more and more types of offline information such as magazines, newspapers and of course, books, online.

Well, 2.5 years later Google is no longer digitizing newspapers (that ended a few months ago) and we haven’t heard about magazines lately but Google Catalogs HAS RETURNED as an iPad only app (at least for now).  It’s likely that popularity of the iPad, social web (share with friends), and geolocation are directly related to its return. Of course, it’s not like most of these services were becoming available when they ended the web-version of Google Catalogs.

From the Google Official Google Blog (August 16, 2011):

The Google Catalogs app features digital versions of catalogs across many popular categories, including fashion and apparel, beauty, jewelry, home, kids and gifts. We’ve partnered with a variety of top brands including Anthropologie, Bare Escentuals, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’sCrate and Barrel, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Pottery Barn, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sephora, Sundance Catalog, Tea Collection, Urban Outfitters and Williams-Sonoma, just to name a few.

With Google Catalogs, you can:

  • Interact: Zoom in to see products up close, tap on tags to learn more about an item or, in some catalogs, view inspiring photo albums and videos.
  • Find products in nearby stores: When an item catches your eye, instantly find it in a store near you or tap “Buy on Website” to visit the merchant online.
  • Express your creativity: Create a collage of your favorite catalog pages and products. If you need inspiration, you can check out collages created by others.
  • Share with friends: Email a product or collage to all your shopping buddies.
  • Get instant access to new catalogs: Add catalogs to your Favorites and get notified each time a new issue arrives.
  • Discover new products and brands: Search for products within or across multiple catalogs to find exactly what you’re looking for.

Happy Shopping!

Final Thought-Search History Nowhere to Be Found

We find it interesting that the Google blog post makes no mention that Google was experimenting with providing robust access to digitized catalogs many years ago (in WWW time). Why doesn’t the company celebrate its history and in this case something cool they were doing years ago? One or two sentences would have done the trick. Perhaps not saying anything makes today’s news even more cutting edge?

No matter what you think about Google today, you’ll likely agree that it’s a fascinating (in all aspects) What’s wrong them letting people know what they were doing years ago and how it relates to what they’re doing or introducing today? Again, a few sentences or paragraph is what we’re talking about, not a book.

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.