New: Google Base – Opportunities for Legal Researchers?

CNN’s top technology news story today was the beta launch of Google Base, which is an online database hosted by Google to which anyone may upload data. The site includes the following description:

Google Base is a place where you can add all types of information that we’ll host and make searchable online.

You can describe any item you post with attributes, which will help people find it when they search Google Base. In fact, based on the relevance of your items, they may also be included in the main Google search index and other Google products like Froogle and Google Local.

From the FAQ’s on the site, it is not immediately clear who would own the data; presumably it would be the person posting, but that is not clear. Does this create opportunities for legal researchers wanting to post and share law-related information?


  1. The taxonomists and the more technically minded among slawyers might like to take a look at Simon Willison’s Weblog’s entry on Base.

    This is intriguing. All/any information as valuable? A stochastic process where everything gets flung and some of the spaghetti sticks to the wall as valuable? Really just web publishing, I suppose: anyone can put up data now and Google will index it. Still, it feels different to have it labelled and tagged.

  2. Ted, indeed an interesting article. A quick scour of the web and we find the analysts speculating on the use of this new storage facility. From taking on Craiglist to eBay. With the power of search behind this huge potential repository – who knows what applications will emerge? Some even describe this as Google’s new classified ad service.

    Of interest is the ability of the user putting ‘stuff’ on Google Base is that the user will be able to describe and assign attribute tags to it. Of even more interest to me – is that Google will probably allow programmers to build on top of this – much like building on top of Google Earth. Therein we will find real ingenuity.

    Let the games begin!

  3. Seems to me Google may be on to somethig here. But then again, so was Napster. Remember peer-to-peer?

    What if the ‘peers’ were researchers and we had a Napster-like way to find things on each other’s machines and obtain a copy whenever we wanted to. Share and share alike.

    I always thought there was a missed opportunity for sharing more than music with these tools. The difference with Google is they want us to put it all in a central (massive-database-in-the-sky) place.

    They may be onto something here.

  4. At risk of sounding like a curmudgeonly spoilsport, I’m not sure this would be so exciting were it not for the “Google” part of the name. As Simon F. notes, this sounds like early days of the graphical web when everyone who knew HTML or had an HTML editor had a “home page” – usually an ISP site with a “~”-identified user page. Some universities even had rudimentary organization structures for these collections of people’s thoughts hosted on their servers, and Yahoo!’s directory was also a sort of taxonomy for these (and for finding the authoritative sites out there). The immediate reaction of my husband and me to this news item was something like: great – now they’ve made it easier for people to add more personal opinion and non-authoritative “my brother heard from his friend’s cousin’s wife” stuff, all gathered together in a database, along with occasionally useful information from authoritative sources.

    Please, anyone is welcome to change my mind. :)


  5. To me, the use of this type of product comes down to centralized vs de-centralized, and the public web vs the private web. Do you want your collection to be A) housed in a foreign country, and B) housed by Google?

    Will this product leave Canadian data exposed to the US patriot act?

    We better be darn sure that the collections built with this type of tool are truly meant for the ‘public web’.

    I like Joel’s idea of using P2P. I’ve often wondered the same thing, and perhaps the distributed user community would be critical to defining where the servers are located. Perhaps more Bit Torrent and less Napster… ;-)

  6. Comment on Steven’s privacy jurisdiction point.
    If I send my information to jurisdiction X, I’m consenting that it be regulated by the laws of that country, whether they permit censors to open the mail, or to invoke the sort of remedies prescribed under the USA Patriot Act
    Once I’m posting data to a foreign public site, it’s hard to see what expectations of domestic privacy I can credibly maintain.
    And before one gets too complacent about how secure you are Google CSE, NSA and GCHQ, and think about what capacity for monitoring already exists.