Better research using Google’s lesser-known search tools

Research is so boring.

Except when you find amazing stuff that totally elevates your work. Then it’s actually cool. People like learning new things, gaining new insights, pulling back the curtain to see who’s really pulling the levers behind the scenes.

(Couldn’t resist. I love that movie 🙂 )

I first encountered Google’s searchable datasets at the Modern Language Association’s annual conference in Chicago in January. The leader at one of the workshops I attended showed us all these cool online datasets she used in her research, and then other people started talking about how they used them in class. Meanwhile I sat there feeling like a very unhip outsider, like everyone else already knew this exceptionally cool new tool and I was late to the party.

Except guess what? I actually wasn’t very late at all. In fact, most people in the workshop were probably secretly feeling as woefully out of the loop as I was.

Google’s Dataset Search tool was launched on September 5, 2018, according to this article in The Verge. Maybe it’s not fully “launched” yet, though, because I see the word “Beta” on the Datasearch page, and also, if you look for it on the basic Google search page (the way you’d look for “images” or “video”), it’s not there. Not even under “More.”

Hmm. It’s kind of like you need to know it’s there to find it. Like, I don’t think a lot of people know about Google Trends, either, which is a super interesting tool I have my students use for their research in my political science class. It reminds me of the secret handshake you once needed to get a Gmail account. Remember that? Many years ago, at least 10 to 15, I was able to get a Gmail account only because a hip student (who eventually went on to work for Google) sent me an invitation, making me briefly way more cool than my peers. Which didn’t last long, and now Gmail is basically everyone’s default backup email account.

But I digress 🙂

Another cool subset of Google’s Dataset Search is its Public Data Explorer, a directory of public datasets collected by governments, NGOs, etc. An amazing treasure trove of info that I would be unlikely to find otherwise.

What inspired me to write this blogpost today was my discovery this morning of a public dataset (or would that be database? I get those terms confused!) of articles on AI algorithms put together by MIT’s Technology Review. Link here to take a look. So fabulous! I’m developing a new course for MSOE ( Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach), called “Digital Society,” and this dataset gives me lots of good articles to explore.

Finding the dataset this morning was a happy accident because I’d totally forgotten about Google’s Dataset Search. Well, not really forgotten. It had just fallen away from the first, second, probably even third tiers of my most easily-recalled bits of knowledge.

So I don’t know, maybe you already know about all these tools? If you didn’t, I’m glad I could share them with you. Maybe you’ll find a way to do some really cool work with them? Let me know if you do!

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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2 Responses to Better research using Google’s lesser-known search tools

  1. Kathleen Smith says:

    Katie: Interesting you should bring this up. My history professor at UWM introduced us to Goodle Scholar, which can help in research. There are so many tools. I just discovered a database for those interested in Medieval sources. Thanks for the information.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love finding new ways in, too. Sometimes I like Google Scholar far more than the databases MSOE subscribed to because they are too specialized. Google Scholar doesn’t limit you to certain fields; you can get everything on your topic, whether it’s engineering, music, business, medicine, whatever. I love that kind of serendipity! Other times I love finding that perfect, highly specialized database like your medieval one, because then you can really start finding unusual and refined, highly focalized stuff.

      I can feel myself getting way too excited by all this talk of databases. Clearly writers and academics are wired differently than other people!


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