All your freebase are belong to us

March 9th, 2007

metaweb logoJohn Markoff writes on Freebase in Start-Up Aims for Database to Automate Web Searching in today’s New York Times. Freebase is “open, shared database of the worlds knowledge” being developed by Metaweb, a Silicon Valley startup founded by Danny Hillis and others and recently funded with $15M from VC firms.

A new company founded by a longtime technologist is setting out to create a vast public database intended to be read by computers rather than people, paving the way for a more automated Internet in which machines will routinely share information.      The company, Metaweb Technologies, is led by Danny Hillis, whose background includes a stint at Walt Disney Imagineering and who has long championed the idea of intelligent machines. (source)

Tim O’Reilly has seen early demonstrations and likes the idea.

“It’s name is appropriate for many reasons. Yes, it is a free database, it is addictive, and its name is overloaded with multiple meanings, just like so many things we try to make sense of. But we have the ability to disambiguate those meanings, and to take them both in, with the overtones and conflicts actually giving additional meaning. Metaweb still has a long way to go, but it seems to me that they are pointing the way to a fascinating new chapter in the evolution of Web 2.0.” (source)

The idea of developing of a vast repository of sharable data intended primarily to accessed by programs is, of course, not new. It’s the goal of the W3C’s Semantic Web effort

He says his latest effort, to be announced Friday, will help develop a realm frequently described as the “semantic Web” — a set of services that will give rise to software agents that automate many functions now performed manually in front of a Web browser. (source)

But there are differences. Fundamental ones.

The idea of a centralized database storing all of the world’s digital information is a fundamental shift away from today’s World Wide Web, which is akin to a library of linked digital documents stored separately on millions of computers where search engines serve as the equivalent of a card catalog. (source)

While some of Feebase’s data will be harvested from sources like MusicBrainz and Wikipedia, much of it is planned to be added by users. I assume that this means that users will also be able to define or extend the underlying conceptual schemas or ontologies.

I’m quite interested to see what approach Freebase is taking to a common data model and to building and maintaining shares ontologies, vocabularies and schemas. The W3C’s RDF approach is, IMHO, a sound one that can work, although it has both fans and detractors. Another open approach is for knowledge sharing is Common Logic. You can sign up at freebase.com for a membership invitation. Having done so, I hope to receive it soon so I can find out how this is supposed to work.