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Freebase: one to watch

Holy smokes, this is cool. A new startup called Freebase, founded by computing gods, is taking on web search, with a Google Base-like database, but built with an open, ODP-like model.

A new company founded by a longtime technologist is setting out to create a vast public database intended to be read by computers rather than people, paving the way for a more automated Internet in which machines will routinely share information.

Mr. Hillis first described his idea for creating a knowledge web he called Aristotle in a paper in 2000. But he said he did not try to build the system until he had recruited two technical experts as co-founders. Robert Cook, an expert in parallel computing and database design, is Metaweb.s executive vice president for product development. John Giannandrea, formerly chief technologist at Tellme Networks and chief technologist of the Web browser group at Netscape/AOL, is the company.s chief technology officer.
    -- Start-Up Aims for Database to Automate Web Searching, by John Markoff.

Danny Hillis is a computing legend, having founded a company to produce the Connection Machine, one of the first massively parallel computers and a very slick piece of work. John Giannandrea ("jg") was a Netscape founder, and recently CTO of Tellme, which built a massive voice-recognizing telco application. He runs a tier-1 colocation business as a side hobby to his day jobs. Not just vision here but deep technical implementation experience.

And lest you be deceived by the academic aura:

Based in San Francisco, Metaweb Technologies, Inc. was spun out of Applied Minds, Inc. in July, 2005 to build a better infrastructure for the Web. Metaweb was founded by Danny Hillis and funded by Benchmark Capital, Millennium Technology Ventures, Omidyar Network and other prominent investors. It is led by battle-hardened alumni of Netscape, The Internet Archive, Alexa, Tellme, Intel and Broderbund.

How long has Danny been around? He's even in the joke file, with a koan about marvin minsky:

In the days when Sussman was a novice Minsky once came to him as he sat
hacking at the PDP-6. "What are you doing?", asked Minsky.
  "I am training a randomly wired neural net to play Tic-Tac-Toe."
  "Why is the net wired randomly?", asked Minsky?
  "I do not want it to have any preconceptions of how to play."
  Minsky shut his eyes,
  "Why do you close your eyes?", Sussman asked his teacher.
  "So that the room will be empty."
At that moment, Sussman was enlightened.
      -- Danny Hillis

These guys are the stuff, I would watch very closely. :-)

Comments (2)

Rich, I agree!

yikes:

nyet! no! eggads! do you know why google is popular?! the world's data does not want to be structured.

there are only three ways to do this:

1. treat all bits as potentially noisy and use probabilistic methods to try to fish it out. see: google.

2. given the impossibility of structuring all the world's data into domain-specific schemas of value, semi structure your data into one humongous associative array. okay, now what?

3. ignore (2) and actually try to create a bazillion community authored and maintained schemas. the only problem is that schema design isn't much fun, and amateur schemas will break easily.

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