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.
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