Now, that’s BIG DATA: Google’s GDELT Project

„GDELT is an initiative to construct a catalog of human societal-scale behavior and beliefs across all countries of the world over the last two centuries down to the city level globally, to make all of this data freely available for open research.“ (website)

This is the short description of what GDELT, which reads „Global Database of Events, Language and Tone“ in full, is all about:

„GDELT is the most ambitious effort to date to overcome these problems, and that ambition is helping to pull empirical social science in some new and productive directions. GDELT uses software to scour the web for media stories that contain information about a large but predetermined array of verbal and physical interactions. These interactions range from protests, threats, and attacks to more positive things like requests for aid and expressions of support. When GDELT’s software finds text that describes one of those interactions, it creates a record that includes numeric representations of words or phrases indicating what kind of interaction it was, who was involved, and where and when it took place. Each of those records becomes one tiny layer in an ever-growing stack. GDELT was only created in the 2010s, but its software has been applied to archival material to extend its coverage all the way back to 1979. The current version includes roughly 2.5 million records, and that number now grows by tens of thousands every day.“ (Jay Ulfelder)

Of course, GDELT is not perfect (not in its current form and one may question, if it will ever be), as e.g. Weller and McCubbins have pointed out.

But it offers some fascinating insight into trends and directions of massive social science data analysis and current and future analytic as well as pedagogical applications!

Currently, Ulfelder’s concluding remarks perfectly resonate with my own feelings towards these new „tools of the trade“:

„I’ll wrap this up by saying that I am still really, really excited about the new possibilities for social scientific research opening up as a result of projects like GDELT and, now, the Open Event Data Alliance it helped to spawn. At the same time, I think we social scientists have to be very cautious in our use of these shiny new things. As excited as we may be, we’re also the ones with the professional obligation to check the impulse to push them harder than they’re ready to go.“ (Jay Ulfelder, see above for source)

 

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