Freebase: the semantic web application

Another Wikidia-style online encyclopedia has seen the light. But Freebase is something new. Its creator, the company Metaweb is setting out to create a vast public database intended to read by computers rather than people. Users still play an important rule in Freebase. They set the types of relations between pieces of information. People add metadata instead of data. In this way, information will be structured to make it possible for software to define relationships and even meaning. In the words of TechCrunch’ Micheal Arrington: This is cool unless its get consciousness and kills us all.

How does it work?
Freebase logo When logged in (registration is open for the public since november), you can add information on companies, movies, places, restaurants etc, just as in Wikipedia. But you not only enter the data, but also add the types of the information. For example, we choose to add a company to the database. When I entered Knowledgeland and told Freebase it’s a company, a new template with a lot of predefined structure came up, because Metaweb has defined a whole set of additional data that is typically associated with a company. I can choose to enter the empty fields such as employees. When I then click on the name of the employee, it’s relation with the company and it’s type is automatically established. Employees become persons, places become locations etc. And all these new topics come with their own predefined fields. Searching has become a lot more intuitive because you can use the same fields for narrowing down the results. A search string such as ‘show me all the companies in Amsterdam’ is done with two clicks.

Open for everyone
Freebase has already sucked in data from Wikipedia and other sources, and user can fill in their data too. Currently Freebase counts almost 3 million topics. More than 1200 relationships in the form of types have been established between these topics within 68 domains. Just as with Google, developers can extract information from Freebase and add it to their web applications. The information users add is licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution License or Public Domain. Because the information is structured, other web applications can use Freebase to display its information in new ways.

Freebase is interesting not only for its collective intelligence. The workflow of entering metadata is highly intuitive and can function as a blueprint for crowdsourcing purposes. Archives don’t need to worry about the types of relations, users create them on the fly.

Perhaps Freebase marks the start of a new era in gathering information. Perhaps not. But one thing is sure: Freebase in potential the Google killer for harvesting collective intelligence.

Links
http://www.freebase.com/
Introduction to Freebase (screencast)

Related posts
- Freebase @ Techcrunch
- Tim O’Reilly about Freebase

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