I don’t get a chance to review products often enough these days. But when I heard about Freebase I knew I needed to dive into that one as soon as I was able.
Someone once described it as Wikipedia for structured data. I think that’s a good way to think about it.
That image leaves out one of the most powerful aspect of the tool, though. The pivot points that are created when a piece of data can be interlinked automatically and dynamically with other pieces of data creates a network of information that is more powerful than an edited page.
The Freebase screencast uses the movie database example to show this. You can dive in and out from actor to film which if you wanted could then carry on to topic to location to government to politician to gossip and on and on and on. And everything is editable.
Now, they didn’t stop at making the ultimate community-driven relational database. They exposed all the data in conveniently shareable formats like JSON. This means that I could build a web site that leverages that data and makes it available to my site visitors. I only need to link back to Freebase.com.
But that’s not all. In combination with the conveniently accessible data, they allow people to submit data to Freebase programmatically through their APIs. They will need to create some licensing controls for this to really work for data owners (NBA stats data and NYSE stock data, for example). But that’s getting easier to solve, and you can see that they are moving in that direction already.
Here’s a brief clip of the screencast which shows some other interesting concepts in action, too:
Suddenly, you can imagine that Freebase becomes a data clearinghouse, a place where people post information perhaps even indirectly through 3rd parties and make money or attract customers as others redistribute your data from the Freebase distribution point. They have a self-contained but infinitely scaleable data ecosystem.
I can imagine people wanting to manage their personal profile in this model and creating friends lists much like the typical social network except that it’s reusable everywhere on the Internet. I can imagine consumer goods producers weaving coupons and deals data with local retailer data and reaching buyers in highly relevant ways we haven’t seen yet.
Freebase feels very disruptive to me. I’m pretty sure that this is one to watch. And I’m not alone…
Michael Arrington: “Freebase looks to be what Google Base is not: open and useful.”
Jon Udell: “Freebase is aptly named, I am drawn like a moth to its flame.”
Tim O’Reilly: “Unlike the W3C approach to the semantic web, which starts with controlled ontologies, Metaweb adopts a folksonomy approach, in which people can add new categories (much like tags), in a messy sprawl of potentially overlapping assertions.”
John Markoff: “On the Web, there are few rules governing how information should be organized. But in the Metaweb database, to be named Freebase, information will be structured to make it possible for software programs to discern relationships and even meaning”
In some ways, it seems like the whole Web 2.0 era was merely an incubation period for breakthroughs like Freebase. Judging by the amount of data already submitted in the alpha phase, I suspect this is going to explode when it officially launches.