Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Designing an infinite digital bookcase

By Aaron Koblin, Data Arts Team and Bill Schilit, Research

Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog

As digital designers, we often think about how to translate traditional media into a virtual space. Recently, we thought about the bookcase. What would it look like if it was designed to hold digital books?

A digital interface needs to be familiar enough to be intuitive, while simultaneously taking advantage of the lack of constraints in a virtual space. In this case, we imagined something that looks like the shelves in your living room, but is also capable of showcasing the huge number of titles available online—many more than fit on a traditional shelf. With this in mind, we designed a digital bookcase that’s an infinite 3D helix. You can spin it side-to-side and up and down with your mouse. It holds 3D models of more than 10,000 titles from Google Books.

The books are organized into 28 subjects. To choose a subject, click the subject button near the top of your screen when viewing the bookcase. The camera then flies to that subject. Clicking on a book pulls it off the shelf and brings it to the front and center of the screen. Click on the high-resolution cover and the book will open to a page with title and author information as well as a short synopsis, provided by the Google Books API. All of the visuals are rendered with WebGL, a technology in Google Chrome and other modern browsers that enables fast, hardware-accelerated 3D graphics right in the browser, without the need for a plug-in.

If you’ve finished your browsing and find a book you want to read, you can click the “Get this book” button on the bottom right of the page, which will send you to that book’s page on books.google.com. Or, you can open the title on your phone or tablet via the QR code that’s in the bottom left corner of the page, using a QR code app like Google Goggles. You can also browse just free books by selecting the “Free Books” subject in the subject viewer.

Bookworms using a modern browser can try the WebGL Bookcase today. We recommend using Google Chrome and a fast computer with a powerful graphics card. Even with new hardware, this interface is experimental and may not work on some machines. For more creative browser experiments, check out Chrome Experiments, a gallery of more than 300 creative projects made by developers and artists from around the world, many utilizing WebGL.

Posted by Scott Knaster, Editor


  1. Woww.......that's really cool, yet another interesting feature from Google!

  2. What a fantastic showcase... great work!

    I noticed that the link "WebGL Bookcase" in the title of the banner on the front page of http://www.chromeexperiments.com/ points to http://maps.google.com/gl.

  3. Ok, after only moments of playing with this I realized that it's instantly comfortable and intuitive for me. I would absolutely love this for all the pdfs I have on my systems - so much more potential than browsing folders. If the user had control of the category concept then it could work for just about all files... I really want this as a tool.

  4. Cool!!!

    This would make a great application which could be installed and we could use for browsing personal books/music/movies.

  5. Amazing idea!!

    But the bookstore should allow users to read the review comments for a book/movie.

  6. it's really nice to see finally the next generation of the web sites ..not only a stable page as a news paper !!
    I wonder if this will become in 3D in the close future ..that's will by a real jump !
    but u know ?! with the big requirements to make such a thing work, I guess we gonna see a big space between those who can, and have the requirements to use such a thing, and those who don't and can't .. just in time when we thought that space was filled !

  7. While it's really cool stuff, I can't seem to find it that usable. From the two aspects, the searching and the exploring of content, you just get an grid of small book icons that is 3d, but doesn't give you full control of navigating or jumping around(ignoring the button for choosing categories, because that's lame..), and it doesn't give you some basic information at one glance like the title. So from a UI perspective, nothing really useful, but definitely very cool and something to extend upon. Add things like cooler smoother navigation with grouping and jumping between groups, semantic zooming(if you zoom near, you get more details, further away you get grouping and just little icons), and searching.

  8. Agree with phil, the default books app for the ipad in library view is a good example of something that works way better.

    Good attempt at doing something interesting in 3D though, even if it misses in a UI perspective.


    INTENTIA MEA , ESTE DE A TRANSMITE TINERILOR , LITERATURA DE SPECIALITATE, INTR-UN STIL ATRAGATOR, INTELIGIBIL,USOR DE INTELES / (si statisticile si conturile ar converge si probabil nu ar mai fi neclaritati)