Google announced today that it has acquired Metaweb, the company behind Freebase — a free, semantic database of “over 12 million people, places, and things in the world.” This is from their announcement on the Official Google blog:
“Over time we’ve improved search by deepening our understanding of queries and web pages. The web isn’t merely words — it’s information about things in the real world, and understanding the relationships between real-world entities can help us deliver relevant information more quickly. … With efforts like rich snippets and the search answers feature, we’re just beginning to apply our understanding of the web to make search better. Type [barack obama birthday] in the search box and see the answer right at the top of the page. Or search for [events in San Jose] and see a list of specific events and dates. We can offer this kind of experience because we understand facts about real people and real events out in the world. But what about [colleges on the west coast with tuition under $30,000] or [actors over 40 who have won at least one oscar]? These are hard questions, and we’ve acquired Metaweb because we believe working together we’ll be able to provide better answers.”
In their announcement, Google promises to continue to maintain Freebase “as a free and open database for the world” and invites other web companies use and contribute to it.
Freebase is a system very much in the linked open data spirit, even thought RDF is not its native representation. It’s content is available as RDF and there are many links that bind it to the LOD cloud. Moreover, Freebase has a very good wiki-like interface allowing people to upload, extend and edit both its schema and data.
Here’s a video on the concepts behind Metaweb which are, of course, also those underlying the Semantic Web. What the difference — I’d say a combination of representational details and centralized (Metaweb) vs. distributed (Semantic Web).