Google buys Metaweb to move beyond Keyword Search

Yesterday, the MIT Entrepreneurship Review posted the first article in my series on Semantic Technologies, available here. I asked whether Semantic Technologies had crossed the chasm yet and my assessment was positive yet cautious:

“Overall, there seems to be consensus that as semantic technologies move out of the purely technical corner and beyond the innovators and early adopters in academia and government, content-heavy organizations and users like publishers or e-commerce sites will help these technologies cross the chasm as they see the largest benefit in applying the technology. As pointed out earlier, companies like The New York Times or Best Buy have already begun to build and rely on semantic technologies. As more and more companies start adopting linked data standards and share data in the linked data cloud, we will see more businesses created to derive value from aggregating data across different datasets to provide value to their users.”

I had quoted Will Hunsinger, CEO of Evri, who pointed out to me, that he had seen increasing activity in the past year and transactions such as Apple’s acquisition of Siri, or Microsoft’s acquisition of Powerset – as well as Evri’s acquisition of Radar Networks – are all indicators of increased focus on semantic technologies and potential exits for start-ups in the space.

Today, Google surprised the world by announcing the acquisition of Metaweb, the company behind Freebase. The official press release says that “we believe working together we’ll be able to provide better answers”. This is yet another big break-through for semantic technologies.

To understand the impact of this acquisition, have a look at the following video, which I think does a great job explaining Metaweb/Freebase and hints to the power of combining this with Google.

While Google has done a tremendous job in improving its search engine, in particular with respect to providing contextual results, access to Metaweb’s Freebase of 12 million entities will move Google even fast beyond keyword search.

I wonder though how the acquisition by Google will impact Freebase’s growth from individual contributors – will people continue to contribute voluntarily at the rate they have been? Google said in the press release that they will keep Freebase going and “plan to contribute to and further develop Freebase and would be delighted if other web companies use and contribute to the data“.

Also, parts of Bing’s search are powered by Freebase, as Jamie Taylor, Minister of Information at Metaweb, pointed out to me that “you definitely see freebase data appearing on Bing” (see upcoming interview in the MIT Entrepreneurship Review) – I wonder what happens to this now.

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