The Only Dataset Search Tool: What Does That Tell Us about Google?

April 11, 2024

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

If you like semi-jazzy, academic write ups, you will revel in “Discovering Datasets on the Web Scale: Challenges and Recommendations for Google Dataset Search.” The write up appears in a publication associated with Jeffrey Epstein’s favorite university. It may be worth noting that MIT and Google have teamed to offer a free course in Artificial Intelligence. That is the next big thing which does hallucinate at times while creating considerable marketing angst among the techno-giants jousting to emerge as the go-to source of the technology.

Back to the write up. Google created a search tool to allow a user to locate datasets accessible via the Internet. There are more than 700 data brokers in the US. These outfits will sell data to most people who can pony up the cash. Examples range from six figure fees for the Twitter stream to a few hundred bucks for boat license holders in states without much water.

The write up says:

Our team at Google developed Dataset Search, which differs from existing dataset search tools because of its scope and openness: potentially any dataset on the web is in scope.


A very large, money oriented creature enjoins a worker to gather data. If someone asks, “Why?”, the monster says, “Make up something.” Thanks MSFT Copilot. How is your security today? Oh, that’s too bad.

The write up does the academic thing of citing articles which talk about data on the Web. There is even a table which organizes the types of data discovery tools. The categorization of general and specific is brilliant. Who would have thought there were two categories of a vertical search engine focused on Web-accessible data. I thought there was just one category; namely, gettable. The idea is that if the data are exposed, take them. Asking permission just costs time and money. The idea is that one can apologize and keep the data.

The article includes a Googley graphic. The French portal, the Italian “special” portal, and the Harvard “dataverse” are identified. Were there other Web accessible collections? My hunch is that Google’s spiders such down as one famous Googler said, “All” the world’s information. I will leave it to your imagination to fill in other sources for the dataset pages. (I want to point out that Google has some interesting technology related to converting data sets into normalized data structures. If you are curious about the patents, just write benkent2020 at yahoo dot com, and one of my researchers will send along a couple of US patent numbers. Impressive system and method.)

The section “Making Sense of Heterogeneous Datasets” is peculiar. First, the Googlers discovered the basic fact of data from different sources — The data structures vary. Think in terms  of grapes and deer droppings. Second, the data cannot be “trusted.” There is no fix to this issue for the team writing the paper. Third, the authors appear to be unaware of the patents I mentioned, particularly the useful example about gathering and normalizing data about digital cameras. The method applies to other types of processed data as well.

I want to jump to the “beyond metadata” idea. This is the mental equivalent of “popping” up a perceptual level. Metadata are quite important and useful. (Isn’t it odd that Google strips high value metadata from its search results; for example, time and data?) The authors of the paper work hard to explain that the Google approach to data set search adds value by grouping, sorting, and tagging with information not in any one data set. This is common sense, but the Googley spin on this is to build “trust.” Remember: This is an alleged monopolist engaged in online advertising and co-opting certain Web services.

Several observations:

  1. This is another of Google’s high-class PR moves. Hooking up with MIT and delivering razz-ma-tazz about identifying spiderable content collections in the name of greater good is part of the 2024 Code Red playbook it seems. From humble brag about smart software to crazy assertions like quantum supremacy, today’s Google is a remarkable entity
  2. The work on this “project” is divorced from time. I checked my file of Google-related information, and I found no information about the start date of a vertical search engine project focused on spidering and indexing data sets. My hunch is that it has been in the works for a while, although I can pinpoint 2006 as a year in which Google’s technology wizards began to talk about building master data sets. Why no time specifics?
  3. I found the absence of AI talk notable. Perhaps Google does not think a reader will ask, “What’s with the use of these data? I can’t use this tool, so why spend the time, effort, and money to index information from a country like France which is not one of Google’s biggest fans. (Paris was, however, the roll out choice for the answer to Microsoft and ChatGPT’s smart software announcement. Plus that presentation featured incorrect information as I recall.)

Net net: I think this write up with its quasi-academic blessing is a bit of advance information to use in the coming wave of litigation about Google’s use of content to train its AI systems. This is just a hunch, but there are too many weirdnesses in the academic write up to write off as intern work or careless research writing which is more difficult in the wake of the stochastic monkey dust up.

Stephen E Arnold, April 11, 2024


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