09 March 2007

Metaweb, not Betterweb?

Is it just me, or does this sound like a horribly retrograde move?

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.

The company, Metaweb Technologies, is led by Danny Hillis, whose background includes a stint at Walt Disney Imagineering and who has long championed the idea of intelligent machines.


The idea of a centralized database storing all of the world’s digital information is a fundamental shift away from today’s World Wide Web, which is akin to a library of linked digital documents stored separately on millions of computers where search engines serve as the equivalent of a card catalog.

A single database for all the world's digital information? Since when did massive, centralised, single point-of-failure systems come back into vogue? Google's holdings are bad enough.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Update: To be fair, it seems to be adopting a sensible licensing policy, so maybe there's hope yet:

We want to make it possible for you to add high quality structured information to your websites, mashups and applications without worrying about restrictive corporate licenses. All data is licensed Creative Commons Attribution. We only ask that you link back to us.

In addition, Tim O'Reilly has a more upbeat (perhaps because better-informed) assessment here. I can see a little better what they're trying to do, but I'm still not convinced by the centralised nature of it. Opinions?


Bill Hooker said...

It seems compatible with lots-of-copies strategies, so perhaps the centralization won't be a serious drawback.

I signed up for an invite, so I hop e I'll know more when I have been able to play with it.

Glyn Moody said...

Yes, that might be enough to make this acceptable. I can't really make up my mind on this one yet: I'll be interested to hear your experiences.

Certainly, I'm all for a data commons.

Unknown said...

Glyn, I completely agree with you here that a massively centralized system is probably not the best way to go. As I wrote in
Four Principles of Open Knowledge Development
I think it is clear that we should learn from software and be aiming to develop componentized packages that we can then plug together to make larger systems.

At the same time we are badly in need of tools that allows us to collaboratively develop structured information and not just unstructured text (which we already do fairly successfully with wikis and scm tools) -- something I recently wrote at some length about. In that respect I'd be actually more interested in to see the freebase code that the freebase data (looking at the site while it seems the data will be open it's not at all clear whether the code will also be open).

Glyn Moody said...

I'm comforted that someone who knows much more about open data than I do shares at least some of my qualms. A centralised approach just seems so, well, 20th century....

And the point about the underlying code is well made: it will be interesting to see just how open everything turns out to be.