January 27, 2022

Say Hello to Brown Dog! New Search Engine That Could Make Data in Old/Obsolete File Formats Easily Accessible

This (and similar tools under development) could be landscape changers for librarians, archivists, and others involved in digital preservation and access.

The PBS Newshour has published a print article about the development of a new “search engine” named Brown Dog that aims to make data in old/obsolete file formats accessible within just a couple of clicks. It’s called Data Access Proxy.

Brown Dog is under development at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the same place where Marc Andreessen developed the Mosaic web browser.

The complete article (676 words) includes comments from Internet Archive Founder Brewster Kahle as well as an embedded video (also available here) with early demos of Brown Dog.

From the Article:

Brown Dog is designed to convert defunct computer files into accessible formats, preserving information in those files for generations to come. This means that one may no longer need a patchwork of computer applications to use scientific datasets, read old thesis papers or access family videos uploaded onto the Internet.

The search engine has two functions, [Kenton] McHenry [senior research scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Application] says. First, the user can feed a file saved in an outdated format into Brown Dog’s “Data Access Proxy” bookmarked onto their web browser. Within the cloud, stored computer coding transforms the file into something the browser can read and the user can access. Brown Dog’s other function, its Data Tilling Service, enables users to look at otherwise inaccessible data while cloud-based coding assigns metadata to previously unreadable images, audio, video and other uncurated data. That allows users to use keywords to search a collection of photos to find what they need.

Read the Complete Article

But That’s Not All!

Another part of Brown Dog (Data Tilling Service) will work to analyze data, assign metadata, and make the content viewable online. Here’s one way it could be used as described by the developers in a use case.

…while browsing an online image collection, a user could drop an image of three people into the search field, and the DTS would return all images in the collection that also contains three people. If the DTS encounters a file format it is unable to parse, it will utilize the DAP to make the file accessible. The DTS will also perform general indexing of the data and extract and append metadata to files and collections enabling users to gain some sense of the type of data they are encountering.

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About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.