anny Hillis never thinks small. One of his recent projects is a clock for the Long Now Foundation that is intended to last ten thousand years. Yesterday Hillis launched freebase, a wiki-like database that he and his crew hope will become a true “data commons,” collecting and somehow making sense of vast stores of information on every topic. Seeded with large chunks of Wikipedia and other resources like musicbrainz, freebase invites the public to not only add to the knowledge base, but to port what they like to their own pages, thanks to open APIs (Application Program Interfaces) and Creative Commons Attribution licenses.
At first blush, freebase sounds a bit like Google Base, a repository for user-uploaded information that launched a little over a year ago. What distinguishes freebase, however, is its combination of community-generated information with a cunning overlay of descriptive metadata. Web 2.0 meets the Semantic Web.
If enough people upload content to freebase and tag it intelligently, freebase could signal the next step beyond Google and other search engines that return long pages of possible matches based on algorithmic computations. Theoretically, freebase could return an actual answer to your query, one constructed from hints hidden in those interlinked metadata tags. It’s a noble goal and one that Hillis might just be up to.
ust when you think you might have a handle the plethora of websites taking advantage of user-generated content and many-to-many communications, a list like this compendium of Web 2.0 services reminds us that the world is evolving at a remarkable pace. Arranged by category (Audio, Bookmarking, Calendar, Design, Games, Images, Mapping, News, Projects, Search, Tagging, Video, Wikis, and a dozen or so more), the page lists each entry with a short description and a link. Right now it’s a snapshot in time. It will be interesting to see if the authors manage to keep up the list.
eb search engines open up our horizons, but at the same time, they gnaw away at our privacy. To some extent, we’ve learned to live with the fact that any Joe can do a search on our names and turn up facts we never meant to disclose. When search engines willingly turn over search records to government agencies, however, concerns for personal privacy escalate. For those wishing to preserve what little privacy we still have, the Electronic Frontier Foundation just published How To Keep Your Search History Private. Examples of tips include: “Don’t put personally-identifying information in your searches, at least not in a way that can be associated with your other searches.” “Don’t use a search engine operated by your ISP.” “Use a separate browser or browser profile for search and for other activities.”
hose wishing to track how well wikis perform in very public settings now have an ideal petri dish. Yesterday, eBay Wiki launched. The online auction giant is inviting community members to contribute to “fact-based articles” that relate to trading on the website. Built in conjunction with Jotspot, the wiki is quickly attracting both authors and editors. The eBay environment already provides admirable mechanisms for feedback and gauging reputations. It will be interesting to watch how well a wiki withstands inevitable attempts to game the system. Unlike many of the peer-production experiments currently underway, eBay is a testing ground on which players literally have a great deal to gain. The wiki is, of course, in beta. The first articles, seeded by eBay regulars, deal with issues as varied as restoring feedback percentages, a list of handy auction tools, and a set of tips for selling art. It was a brave move by eBay and one that will certainly have its messy moments, but it has the potential to be a true proving ground for public wikis.