(Kevin Kelly) What an amazing, behavior-changing service! Google has scanned in the pages of hundreds of mail order catalogs. This means you can search for anything you can think of and Google will bring up a picture of the item on the actual catalog page. In my experience browsing these scans turns out to be better and faster than scrolling through a company’s website.

Because catalog pages are generally better designed than web pages, they are more informative. And because you can keyword search for items, it’s superior to the actual paper catalog. The way I use this is whenever I am beginning to search for an item I need to buy, I’ll start with the Google Catalog and immediately I’ll find more and more appropriate sources for it than I would by going through long lists of Google web pages. I then use the phone to place my order – faster and more reliable for most catalogs.

The real surprise has been the number of specialty mail order catalogs Google has rounded up. I have yet to stump this machine. It has immediately found sources for the most obscure objects (a 25-foot VGA cable, a Quail weathervane, processed lichen for model tree-making). You can also search on past catalogs, a very useful service for catalogs with seasonal versions. This hybrid of old and new is exactly why the web is so vital.