Contentious though it may be, Google Books is an undeniably powerful tool. Now Google's given the service a shot in the arm and boosted its search functions. Best of all it now lets you embed previews of texts in your own Web pages.
Check out this example, HG Well's The Time Machine, directly from Google Books itself.
Google's made it easy to do this: Much like in YouTube, you simply have to click on the "link" button while reading a book and copy and paste the embed code into a Web page. Beneath the link button there's also a direct link field so you can easily email or IM the URL of the text you're interested in. Both of these features are clearly designed to make sharing easier--but they'll unexpected uses too. It's easy to imagine plenty of academic tasks that would be improved by embedding texts directly in Web pages, for example.
But that's not all--the search functionality has also been tweaked so that when you search within a book you get a small preview panel that places your search terms in context, making it easier to find the right reference. There's also a thumbnail view mode that shows all the pages in a public domain text, each of which is then reachable via a single click.
Why's Google doing this? Google itself compares the embeds and links to the way you might flick through a book or magazine and show something interesting to a friend. But adding in these social sharing functions is a clever move on Google's behalf--it will likely drive more traffic to the Books site itself. And in the world of Google, traffic is king, or at least it's a way of making more money from advertising.