Google’s Infinite Bookcase: An Abstract Browser For Limitless Libraries

I wrote a while back about the eventual necessity for the internet to become beautiful. The trouble is that the things in the world we consider beautiful in an informational context — magazine and book layouts, typography, etc. — are necessarily limited in the information they have to present. It’s this limitation, the known quantity aspect, that lets designers work effectively.

How should you design something, then, that presents effectively limitless information (say, all the world’s books) through a fairly limited medium (say, a web browser)? Google has one idea. Put them on a gigantic helix.

As you can see, they’ve got this WebGL-based demo up and running with about 10,000 titles that have been indexed by Google Books. It’s separated by genre, and you can zoom between genres with a thrilling effect. Makes me think of the Tower of Babel:

But is this really something people will want to navigate? Probably not. People like analogs in their digital catalogs, and this one seems a little bit too off the wall. Sure, there are books in rows. But it’s also a corkscrew extending to the sky. And people are used to seeing their books arranged spine out — which isn’t necessarily the best thing in the world, but it is a superior information density. And I wonder if it might be better to put people inside instead of outside?

Anyway, it’s a fun little experiment you can try out here. Note to Mac Laptop users: be careful how you swipe or you may accidentally navigate off the page or invoke some arcane gesture.