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Bio Saga

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Google Shutters Its Science Data Service

The Google Datasets Project Comes to An End

Google will shutter its highly-anticipated scientific data service in January without even officially launching the product, the company said in an e-mail to its beta testers.

Once nicknamed Palimpsests, but more recently going by the staid name, Google Research Datasets, the service was going to offer scientists a way to store the massive amounts of data generated in an increasing number of fields. About 30 datasets — mostly tests — had already been uploaded to the site.

The dream appears to have fallen prey to belt-tightening at Silicon Valley's most innovative company.

"As you know, Google is a company that promotes experimentation with innovative new products and services. At the same time, we have to carefully balance that with ensuring that our resources are used in the most effective possible way to bring maximum value to our users," wrote Robert Tansley of Google on behalf of the Google Research Datasets team to its internal testers.

"It has been a difficult decision, but we have decided not to continue work on Google Research Datasets, but to instead focus our efforts on other activities such as Google Scholar, our Research Programs, and publishing papers about research here at Google," he wrote.

Axing this scientific project could be another sign of incipient frugality at Google. Just a couple weeks ago, Google CEO Eric Schmidt told the Wall Street Journal that his company would be cutting back on experimental projects. First described in detail by Google engineer Jon Trowbridge at SciFoo 2007 — the slides from a later version of the talk is archived on the Partial Immortalization blog — the project was going to store, for free, some of the world's largest scientific datasets. In Trowbridge's slides, he points out the 120 terabyte Hubble Legacy Archive and the one terabyte Archimedes palimpsest.

"'It's a sad story if it's true," wrote Attila Csordas, a stem cell biologist and author of Partial Immortalization who recently moved to Hungary from Tulane University, in an email to "Assuming it is true that might mean that Google is still a couple years away from directly helping the life sciences (on an infrastructural level)."

Other scientists remained hopeful that the service might return in better times.

"The Space Telescope Science Institute has had a long positive relationship with Google that started with our partnership in GoogleSky in early 2006," said astrophysicist Alberto Conti of STSI. "We were looking forward to Google's commitment to helping the astronomical community with the data deluge, and we are sure Google will reconsider this decision in the future. While perhaps understandable in this economic climate, it's sad to see Google leave the field."

And Conti noted, other companies may step up to help scientists manage their information.

"Amazon is doing exactly the opposite and they might actually fill the void," he said.

Google representatives did not respond immediately to request for comment.

Also read The Google Datasets Project Comes to An End - Oh My Chemistry - Who Cares For You?

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