Freebase is aptly named, I am drawn like a moth to its flame. I realize it can be annoying to discuss things that folks can’t try out for themselves, and I can’t (yet) do anything about that, but I hope that a few more observations will be welcome.
The comment attached to my first item about Freebase, by Metaweb’s Chris Maden, provides an enlightening glimpse into how knowledge gardening in a structured wiki like Freebase will differ from its counterpart in an unstructured wiki like Wikipedia. Here’s what Chris had to say about the Freebase record for me, which I had tweaked:
I noted that his place of birth was “Philadelphia,” which was odd; our cities tend to be named with their state included. Sure enough, “Philadelphia” had been created accidentally by some other user as a “location,” and then Jon had reused it. So I:
1) Changed Jon’s place of birth to “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania” (which is a “location” and a “city/town”).
2) Added a type to “Philadelphia”: “duplicate.”
3) Added a property to “Philadelphia”: it is a duplicate of “Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.”
4) Removed the “location” type from “Philadelphia” to keep it from coming up in autocomplete for other location properties.
By marking it as a duplicate, if someone does end up using it, our topic merge tool can find it and its namesake and combine their properties. This will be more heavily automated as we gain confidence in our detection algorithms.
Emboldened by this narrative, I created my first user-defined Freebase type. Because the system is so new, there are some quite fundamental things that (so far as I can see) haven’t yet been defined. I wanted to create entries for some of my personal projects, such as LibraryLookup and elmcity.info, so I created a type called Project and added the properties Goal and Collaborators. That enabled me to add entries for my two personal projects, describe their goals, and associate myself with them as a collaborator.
But as I said, it’s the social dimension that’ll kick this whole thing into high gear. When I did a text search in Freebase for the word “project” a bunch of things fell out, including the Helix digital media framework. The original Freebase record, sourced from Wikipedia, was typeless. I promoted it to an instance of Project, and by doing so I’ve invited anybody who visits that record to add a Goal and some Collaborators.
I’m not one of those collaborators, but I have an interest in the project and would like to be able to discover who’s working on it. More broadly, I’d like to be able to answer questions like: “Who among the Helix collaborators is also working on .NET projects?”
I can’t answer that question now, and I may never be able to in Freebase or its imminent competitor, Radar Networks. But the point is that it cost me very little to declare Helix as a Project — onced the type was defined, that is — and that provides an immediate benefit just to me. As with social bookmarking, the act of public annotation is a useful aid to memory and recall.
If my invitation to contribute structured data about Helix is accepted by others, that’d be great. But there too, enlightened self-interest can be the prime mover, as it should be. By leaving their fingerprints on things that they care about, people can shape those things for their own purposes. When those fingerprints lead to mutual discovery and collaboration, that’s icing on the cake.
Of course there are all kinds of things that we care about, and would like to declare to be related. For example, I’ve recently been watching these two trend lines, which chart the relative fortunes of weblog.infoworld.com/udell and blog.jonudell.net in the Technorati ranking system:
I’d love to declare once that that these two blogs are related to me, then ask Technorati and a bunch of other services to refer to that relationship. Maybe that’ll happen sooner than I thought.