Discovering Datasets on the Web Scale: Challenges and Recommendations for Google Dataset Search

Daniel Russell
Tarfah Alrashed
Stella Dugall
Harvard Data Science Review(2024)


With the rise of open data in the last two decades, more datasets are online and more people are using them for projects and research. But how do people find datasets? We present the first user study of Google Dataset Search, a dataset-discovery tool that uses a web crawl and open ecosystem to find datasets. Google Dataset Search contains a superset of the datasets in other dataset-discovery tools—a total of 45 million datasets from 13,000 sources. We found that the tool addresses a previously identified need: a search engine for datasets across the entire web, including datasets in other tools. However, the tool introduced new challenges due to its open approach: building a mental model of the tool, making sense of heterogeneous datasets, and learning how to search for datasets. We discuss recommendations for dataset-discovery tools and open research questions.