Last Wednesday, Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) unveiled a new "Search Inside the Book" feature, which allows shoppers to search and browse actual content of many of the works sold by the e-commerce juggernaut. The feature came a day after the company reported its first-ever profit in any quarter other than the holiday-bolstered fourth, and a day before it announced plans to pay off $200 million in debt.

The move may be Amazon's latest maneuver in the battle against Google over search results. Besides expanding its offerings through partnerships -- as, most recently, with The Bombay Company (NYSE:BBA) -- Amazon has sought to take greater hold in the online marketplace through forming its own search unit, In the days after Amazon's announcement, Google, perhaps on the defensive, announced that it had been holding its own conversations with publishers (free registration required at NY Times) about a searchable online database of published content.

The latest commentary on the "Search Inside the Book" feature is quite favorable, to put it mildly. Slate's Steven Johnson gushed in his article that the functionality "will probably turn out to be one of those transformative Web moments when a tool suddenly appears and six months later you can't imagine life without it." Wired's Gary Wolf, in his story, called it "an ingenious attempt to illuminate the dark region of books."

My own inside-the-book searching has left me a bit less enthusiastic. I chose to see all 5909 results of my first search -- for "Italian vegetarian cooking" -- and I sorted them by average customer review, as I usually do. The first results were, in this order, a novel called Waiting in Vain, a wonderful book called The Beatles Anthology, another novel, and a book on Fibromyalgia.

Why? Because Amazon's keyword search now searches inside the book by default, and because searching inside the book vastly increases the number of results. Think about it: If my search returns only those books that contain my three search terms in the title, author and keyword fields, there will be far fewer results than if it returns books that contain my terms anywhere. Fewer results, in general, mean greater accuracy.

Amazon's "Search Inside the Book" feature has been praised, as noted, by many a technology commentator. But sometimes such coverage overlooks the Web's most important element: the user. An inside-the-book search is no doubt highly innovative, and may lead to an interesting change in the publishing industry. But is it helpful? For now, ironically, I'll be using Google's Site Search to search for books on

What do you think of the "Search Inside the Book" feature? Fools have been discussing it on our discussion board. Test out the boards with a free trial.

Devan Goldstein can be reached at He does not own any of the companies mentioned in this article, but he does own The Beatles Anthology.