Freebase: the Next Google-Killer or Over-Hyped Start-Up?

The New York Times is once again breathlessly heralding the “launch” of a Google-killer.

Back in January, the NYT covered Powerset and Hakia in “Looking for the next Google.” In today’s story, “Start-Up Aims for Database to Automate Web Searching,” the NYT covers Metaweb Technologies’ plans to create a semantic Web database, to be called Freebase, which founder Danny Hillis envisions as “a centralized repository that is more like a digital almanac.”

It’s being billed as a cross between a search engine and a database, which would mean that its goals will be similar to those of Google Base — adding structure to data that otherwise does not have structure, and letting content owners edit that metadata.

“It’s like a system for building the synapses for the global brain,” Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media, is quoted as saying in the NYT story. O’Reilly talks about Freebase on his blog, where he is a bit more cautiously optimistic than the NYT, saying, “While freebase is still VERY alpha, with much of the basic functionality barely working, the idea is HUGE.” O’Reilly does a great job covering what Freebase could be, once it is built.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not judging Freebase (or Hakia or Powerset, for that matter). I’m just saying that covering someone’s great idea as if it was already in place is misleading, and unfair both to readers and the company itself, who now must face the constant pressure to complete their project as fast as possible, instead of waiting to start the hype closer to the launch of an actual working product.

Of course, these companies agreed to the interviews, so they’re not innocent in this hype-fest. I’m intrigued by the concept, and look forward to learning more about it – once it exists.

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