On first glance, Borders's recently relaunched Web site gives the impression that the big-box chain wants its online experience to mimic the revamped Barnes & Noble.com or the Books area on Amazon.com. These sites are no longer simply places to buy books; they're a multimedia experience. Price and number of pages and ISBN are there, and so are author interviews, book excerpts, videos, blogs, reviews (both professional and amateur) and suggestions for other things you might like to buy. The new Borders.com offersnearly all of those, as well as other features.

So how does the new site stack up?

First, some good news: since its relaunch, Borders.com no longer relies on Amazon for its back-end fulfillment. Although the much-loved Inventory Search feature takes a bit longer to find, it's still available; after you click on an item, you enter your ZIP code and the site searches bricks-and-mortar stores. (Barnes & Noble offers its own version of this.) Consumer-friendly improvements are there, too, including the ability to redeem Rewards coupons and Borders Bucks online instead of only in bricks-and-mortar stores.

Now, some bad news: you can't “Search Inside” any books on this site (at leastnot yet) and you also can't view any professional or trade reviews for them. If you want to do either, or both, you'll find yourself surfing over to the competition.

And some comparative news: the biggest change is the “Magic Shelf,” which fills up with a customer's own picks as well as autopopulated suggestions. If it looks like Shelfari and acts like Shelfari, that doesn't mean it is Shelfari—or GoodReads, or Visual Bookshelf. On those socially networked book sites, you can get other people's reviews and suggestions for books you might want to read, link to their picks and create lists—all things you can't do currently with the Magic Shelf.

In order to take advantage of the Magic Shelf's touted properties, you have to register and then sign in—two steps between you and recommendations. There are other shelves—Fiction, Nonfiction, Music, DVDs—that are already available, but not personalized. Once I registered, my Magic Shelf offereda mix of many different kinds of books and media, including categories like Original Voices, African-American Literature and Religion and Spirituality.

Unfortunately, the navigation to scroll from right to left through the different shelves is a bit odd and counterintuitive; rather than use a scroll key or mouse, you click on small, rectangular boxes at the bottom of the “shelf.” More significant: these weren't recommendations made through an algorithm or social-networking application; they were simply the usual paid-placement picks you'd find in a Borders bricks-and-mortar store. I made a few purchases to see if the selection would change, but it didn't.

People don't go online to replicate the real-world shopping experience. They maywant to re-create certain nostalgic aspects of it, like great service, but those who are actually looking to stroll around the aisles online are over in Second Life buying wings and tails. The majority of consumers purchase their media online because it's faster, convenient and less confusing. Things that provide more information (reviews) and allow more contact with an author (interviews, blogs, event notices) work; things that muddle quick selection do not.

Notice that I mentioned buying media online, rather than just books. One of the differences between Borders and its competition is its focus on all media, rather than just print. It's fascinating and disappointing that in bringing a new online experience to life, Borders has gone with a look and feel several Web years old. The fact is, book sites aren't in competition with each other any more; they're competing with iTunes.