Andreas Blumauer

What if the biggest web company bought one of the central semantic web players?

Well, exactly this happened yesterday: Google bought Metaweb – provider of Freebase. Freebase is an important hub in the linked data cloud providing 12 million entities with uniform resource identifiers most of them linked to other semantic web datasets like DBpedia or New York Times. For example: Google´s page on Freebase offers a rich source for machine-readable facts around this company.

What does this mean to the Semantic Web Community which has  been working on a smarter web in the last decade?
Well, a lot… First of all, it´s good to hear that Google will continue to develop Freebase as a free and open database to everyone, saying “… we would be delighted if other web companies use and contribute to the data.”

Until yesterday still a lot of companies were not fully convinced if the Semantic Web will play a central role in the further development of the Internet. Now the game has changed. The entity-driven approach to develop web applications has just started now:

We will keep on reporting and discussing how Google will influence the development of the Semantic Web – and if I had a wish for free: Please add RDF(a) to the Freebase widgets!

Andreas Blumauer

Metaweb´s Jamie Taylor: “Freebase provides a large and user extensible vocabulary for RDF/RDFa”

Jamie Taylor, Metaweb

Jamie Taylor, Metaweb

Andreas Blumauer from Semantic Web Company (SWC) talked with Jamie Taylor, Minister of Information at Metaweb Technologies Inc. about Freebase & Linked Data and Google´s announcement to use RDFa.

SWC: At ISWC 2008 Freebase became “officially” part of the LOD Cloud. What exactly has changed since that time?

Jamie: Since Freebase is a community writable semantic database, the addition of the RDF interface allows anyone to publish data into the LOD cloud. LOD Applications can access any Freebase Topic through the RDF interface by constructing a URI from the Freebase identifier.  But perhaps more importantly, because entities in Freebase can be annotated with multiple identifiers, Freebase Topics can be retrieved by constructed URIs using the identifiers used by other systems and data sets.
For instance, the movie Blade Runner can be referred to as, but it can also be referenced as using the Netflix identifier, using the IMDB identifier, or as using a Wikipedia wikiword (which in this case is a Wikipedia redirect to the wikiword Blade_Runner).
Freebase also provides a user maintained mapping of how these identifiers can be used to address resources in other LOD systems. The schema can tell an LOD user that the Freebase Blade Runner Topic can also be found in DBpedia using Wikipedia identifiers or how musical artists can be found at the BBC using Musicbrainz identifiers.  In fact, the Freebase RDF interface uses the schema to create the owl:sameAs links in the RDF output allowing the user community to expand the interconnections between Freebase and the LOD Cloud.
Linked Data providers are also using the strong identifiers in Freebase to identify entities such as companies and locations in their own data sets.  When they find an entity that is not represented in Freebase, they simply add the entity to Freebase and use the newly minted Freebase identifier.  This permits anyone using their data to understand how their entities relates to any of the more than 5 million things interconnected within Freebase.

The RDF interface can also be used to reference the Freebase type system, giving LOD data set providers vocabularies across a wide range of subject areas.  And because anyone can expand Freebase’s data model, data providers can use our schema development tools to build and extend these vocabularies to suite their needs.
Freebase was not designed for ephemeral or fast changing data, like weather conditions or stock ticks.  But this type of information is well suited for publication as Linked Data.  Freebase entities representing a location or company can be annotated with references to LOD services that provide these types of volatile data.  Similarly, Linked Data provides a great way to disseminate very fined grained information that might be associated with a scientific study or financial report.  Linked Data provides a seemless transition from Freebase, where a user (or application) can run a query with constraints that run across a wide range of types to find entities of interest along with the LOD services that provide access to temporal or high resolution data not available in Freebase.
We recently demonstrated MQL Extensions which allows the Metaweb Query Language to use data from other systems as a part of the query constraint and result set.  While MQL Extensions are user extensible and work with a wide array of systems,  this capability makes the connection between Freebase and the LOD Cloud even more transparent.
For example, because US companies that are registered with the SEC are annotated CIK code in Freebase and the schema indicates that the CIK annotation can be used to create a URI that is dereferencable at, it is possible to write a MQL query that asks who is on the board of financial services companies that trade on NASDAQ and are  headquartered in California (and using another MQL Extension, you can ask for their stock price as well!)

SWC: Many organisations are very interested in Linking Open Data now but they are still not sure if they can benefit from publishing data on the web – what´s your experience so far?

Jamie: Linked Open Data provides a simple, standard way for organizations to distribute structured data.  For most organizations, providing access to data is another important outlet to announce the availability of higher value services.  For organizations involved in building or selling physical goods, the bits representing what they provide are not the goods themselves, but a way of attracting potential customers.  Making catalogs and specification sheets available in electronic form, so other applications can connect buyers to their physical goods is simply an effective marketing system.  Even for firms involved in electronic services, providing access to open structured data is generally a lead-in to value added services.  For instance, if I ran a service collecting hard-to-find information about manufacturing relationships between medium sized businesses, I would publish open company profiles covering things like market size, industry, location for the medium-sized businesses I tracked, so potential users the premium data would know I had the coverage they were looking for.

SWC: Just recently Google has announced to use RDFa to enhance their search results. What do you think?

Jamie: We are excited about Google’s announcement. Yahoo’s use of RDFa for Search Monkey and Google’s announcement gives RDFa users tangible benefits. The Search Monkey team was very quick to realize that because users can create data models in Freebase, and because the elements of those models all have strong RDF identifiers, Freebase provides a large and user extensible vocabulary for RDF/RDFa (see the list of vocabularies). When a user wants to create a Search Monkey application that works with their film review site, they need not invent a new vocabulary (that will probably be used only once),  they can use the Freebase Film Domain vocabulary which supports over 63,000 instances in Freebase alone.
Similarly, with over 5 Million well described Topics in Freebase and over 14,000,000 Named Objects (Topics, images, musical tracks and documents) when a user wants to unambiguously identify a subject or object in RDF/RDFa, Freebase has an extremely large collection of identifiers to draw from.  These cover people, places, companies, movies, music, books and wide variety of other subjects.  If Freebase doesn’t have the entity the user is looking for, they can of course add it themselves and make use of the identifier immediately. I think this is why Google used some Freebase identifiers in their examples. We hope that with Yahoo and Google’s support for RDFa the web will become a strongly annotated source of data which can support a wide range of user applications.

SWC: Thank you, Jamie!

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Andreas Blumauer

Linked Data is not owl:sameAs Semantic Web

twitter_cloudletWhile some people work heavily on the extension of the semantic web infrastructure, like Talis Connected Commons or OpenLink´s Amazon EC2 Instantiation others have started to bring the semantic web closer to the developers and therefore to a much broader audience: They offer search facilities or Linked Data Navigators like OpenLink´s Entity Finder or DERI´s VisiNav.

Those kind of applications should not be confused with “semantic web” end-user-applications like Google´s Wonderwheel or INTSPEI´s Cloudlet: To add some semantics to existing user-interfaces can be helpful and obviously users are ready for such experiments, but of course this is NOT the innovation which the semantic web will bring but it is a very important step to be taken in parallel with the linked data initiative.

Let´s take a look at Cloudlet: This tool is an easy-to-use free Firefox extension that adds context-sensitive tag clouds to the most popular search engines and helps people more efficiently navigate through their search results. The previous version of Search Cloudlet worked with Google and Yahoo; the new version also works with Twitter. It adds Tag Clouds, Author Clouds, Recipient Clouds and Hashtag Clouds to Twitter search, Twitter user profiles and home pages. See some reviews on this popular tool.

Cloudlet is a child of the Web. INTSPEI has learned all lessons from Web 2.0 especially how to promote ideas using the blogosphere and how to identify market trends as early as possible, and it generates some added value for the users which is obvious. Sure, it doesn´t make use of linked data yet, but as a typical representative of the fast growing “semantic search evolution” it reminds me on Chris Welty´s famous insight: “In the Semantic Web, it is not the Semantic which is new, it is the Web which is new.”

Web 1.0 was the WWW without tons of network effects. Web 2.0 changed that a lot.

Linked Data is not the Semantic Web, it´s the basement for it. From a software developer´s and an IT archictect´s perspective it might seem as those two concepts were the same. But this community represents a very small percentage of all web-users.

So where is the User´s Web in the Linked Data architecture? If you´re looking at TimBL´s Linked Data principles one can clearly see that this is a “Web” for developers.

But things evolve. And some Web companies will jump on the bandwagon and will, for instance, improve their tagclouds, their semantic search, their recommender systems (Twine?) or their similarity search a lot by making use of linked data.

Like semantic search becomes mainstream (or call it “semantic search 2.0”) right now, then (in about three years, I guess) linked data will become part of a lot of mainstream applications. Linked data will generate tons of new network effects, maybe even new business models, it won´t be avant-garde anymore. It will be part of the Semantic Web.

Thomas Thurner

the next google

Google in 1998
Image via Wikipedia

Maybe you have noticed it already; today in the morning something new appeared at Google’s search engine interface: A bunch of corresponding search-suggestions based on your search query. Google spoke about this enhancement:

Starting today, we’re deploying a new technology that can better understand associations and concepts related to your search, and one of its first applications lets us offer you even more useful related searches (the terms found at the bottom, and sometimes at the top, of the search results page).

I tried it. So, if you type in “time travel” you also get search proposals like “theory of relativity time travel” or “wormhole time travel”. Google annouced, that the service is available in various languages. The direct test with German is a little disillusioning: Searching for “zeit reise” (which is the same concept as above, in german) leads to alternative searches like “reisen 50er jahren” (travel 50ies) and “reisen im mittelalter” (travel in the medieval).

Even if this semantic-like extension of the basis search function still needs some tuning, the point is getting clearer: Also Google is doing developments to get more meaningful results into their search algorithms. And parts of the semantic methodology are finding their way into mainstream services like search engines – as we have seen with Wolfram Alpha some days ago. So keep your eyes open – maybe next morning you’ll find another piece of the semantic puzzle embedded into one of your favorite web-apps.

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