Google Makes Scanned Documents Searchable - InformationWeek
IoT
IoT
Government // Mobile & Wireless
News
10/31/2008
02:20 PM
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Google Makes Scanned Documents Searchable

Using optical character-recognition technology, Google will make the converted text of scanned PDFs available on its search results pages via the "View as HTML" link.

Google on Thursday said that it has begun turning electronic copies of printed documents -- PDF files generated from scanned paper -- back into digital text using optical character-recognition (OCR) technology.

"In the past, scanned documents were rarely included in search results as we couldn't be sure of their content," said Google product manager Evin Levey in a blog post. "We had occasional clues from references to the document -- so you might get a search result with a title but no snippet highlighting your query. Today, that changes. We are now able to perform OCR on any scanned documents that we find stored in Adobe's PDF format."

Google is making the converted text of scanned PDFs available on its search results pages via the "View as HTML" link. As an example, this scan of a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) document about aluminum wiring repair from 2004 is viewable as HTML.

The same search, "repairing aluminum wiring," on Yahoo Search also returned the CPSC PDF as the top result, but the Yahoo's "View as HTML" link showed only blank pages. Microsoft's Live Search and Ask.com also returned the CPSC PDF as the top result. Neither offered a "View as HTML" link.

By turning images of text into text, Google expands its already massive index. As Levey points out, Google's OCR system converts pictures into thousands of words.

"This is a small but important step forward in our mission of making all the world's information accessible and useful," said Levey.

Google's approach doesn't obviate the need to consult the scanned file, however, if it contains images or diagrams. While Google appears to do a good job of converting text, its scans omit graphics. Perhaps in time its engineers will be able to isolate graphic elements in scanned PDFs and insert them into its HTML conversions.

One unfortunate consequence of this is that personal information like Social Security numbers that might have gone unnoticed in scans of court documents may now be discoverable through a Google search. Public.Resource.org, a project that aims to make public government publicly accessible, recently found about 1,700 documents with Social Security numbers or alien identification numbers out of a corpus of 2.5 million court documents that go back decades.

But that's the sort of problem that crops up when you make all the world's information accessible.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll