On joining Google

It’s a long time since I posted here, but this seemed worth an announcement.

Yesterday Metaweb, my employer and the creators of Freebase, announced that we’ve been acquired by Google.

The announcement was pretty exciting, not least because I got to be the person to post the official blog post on the Freebase blog.

I’m also excited that we launched this video along with the announcement, explaining what Metaweb/Freebase is all about:

Transcript:
You know what drives me crazy about words? They have a million different meanings.

Like, check this out: someone says, “I love Boston.” Now, they probably mean, “I love Boston, the big city in Massachusetts”, but they could be referring to one of the twenty-six other Bostons that are scattered around the globe. But, if it’s during the playoffs, they’re probably referring to the Celtics [basketball team]. Of course, you and I both hope that they’re talking about the Boston. You know. [Image of rock band, sounds of electric guitar.]

But, I guess there’s really no way of knowing. The problem is that the same word can mean so many different things. Because of that, when it comes to finding, linking, reconciling, or organising multiple layers of information, words are not the best solution. The guys at grocery stores figured this out back in the sixties when they started putting barcodes on everything, so that products with the same name wouldn’t get confused.

So how come on the web, so many sites still try to organise stuff with words? Say you’re a product guy at a big music site and you want to pull in feeds of lyrics and videos and photos from all of your data suppliers. But everyone uses different names for things, and a lot of the feeds don’t even match up, so you’ve got to reconcile them, and pull in updates, and deal with merges and deletes and splits. It’s a nightmare.

But what if there was a better way?

Welcome to Metaweb. Metaweb is a service that helps you build your website around entities, and not just words. Whoa, what’s an entity? Well the simple answer is, it’s a singular person, place, or thing.

OK, well, let’s compare that to text. Did you know that on the web there are more than 50 different ways people write “U. C. Berkeley”? [Examples listed: Cal Berkeley, Berkeley University, UCB, California, U of Cal, etc.] And they’re really just talking about one single place, one entity. By mapping all those words to a single entity, as if it had its own barcode, you can combine all that information about U. C. Berkeley into one place.

But that’s just the beginning. Because entities represent unique, real-life things, we can build a map that shows how they’re related. So, you can look for things that share certain attributes, like “actresses under 20 from New York”. Can you imagine trying to find that with a keyword search? [Shows typical keyword search results, with keywords highlighted: "NY blogger under fire for criticizing actress", "March 3 2004: New! 20 steps to be an actress", "Kid actress eats 20 York peppermints".] Entities are just smarter than words.

So, Metaweb’s been in the process of identifying millions of these entities and mapping out how they’re related, and what words other sites use to refer to them. And it’s really cool because they have a totally collaborative process that involves the online community. This thing will always be expanding and improving.

So, how is this going to help you? Well let’s say you’re that guy writing the movie review. If you tag the review with an entity in Metaweb, it’s like you’re looking at a menu saying, “Hey, Metaweb, give me the movie poster and a trailer and some links and maybe some other information like the release date and who was in it.” And BAM, it’d be right there. And now, your page looks awesome!

Or, say you’re that product guy at the music site. Instead of spending months doing messy integrations and maintaining all those feeds, you can just plug in to Metaweb, and suddenly everything just works. It’s like a switchboard for content on the web. [Various logos related to web content: eg. Twitter, Facebook, Audio Scrobbler, WordPress.] And not only that! When your site’s built on entities, new things get magically connected. Like, if one of your users adds a band to her profile page, or tags them in a comment, that can show up on the band page, because they’re all linked under the hood to the same entity.

Are you kidding me? This stuff sounds impossible! Well, that’s what they said about the barcode.

And it’s not just movies and bands. Metaweb has millions of entities in thousands of categories: twelve million and counting!

Metaweb makes your site smarter. It’s time to connect to the web. Metaweb.com.

I think a lot of friends and family are finally going to be saying, “Oh, so that’s what you do” :)

The other good news with the announcement is that Freebase is going to be staying free and open, and we’ll be working with Google to make it bigger and better (and you know with Google, bigger means bigger). So that’s pretty exciting. I’ll be continuing on over there doing community/developer relations stuff.

I’ll also be at OSCON next week, where I’ll be giving a presentation on Open Source, Open Data where I talk about how we apply open source ideas and processes to open data. Come see my talk!

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