Staff researcher David François Huynh has created an interesting tool for browsing semantic database Freebase, called Freebase Parallax. Written up by ZDNet’s Oliver Marks, the video Huynh recorded demonstrating Parallax (below) will knock your socks off.
Unfortunately, actually using Parallax demonstrates just how far from solid Freebase, one of the semantic web’s poster children, really is. The idea is to allow you to apply multiple filters for your searches and embed live charts in a blog. It’s a beautiful idea, check out the video.
Here’s the video below, if you find yourself saying “get to the point already,” then skip to about 1:30 in the timeline.
Unfortunately, when we tried out a number of searches in Parallax, very few subjects were well populated at all. We found duplicate subject titles where one held solid data and the other didn’t, but even that was a best case scenario. In search after search, we found next to nothing in Freebase.
The example above is nice, but let’s say I want to find out something about black women scientists. No luck. History of the internet? Not much information there. Venture Capitalists? Blank profile pages.
This ought to work. Freebase has taken more than $50 million in venture investments, they have a small army of volunteer and computer scientist contributors, they’ve got robots pumping their database with information automatically. There are now 60% more articles in Freebase than there are in English Wikipedia. So what’s the problem?
We wrote last week about ontological concerns about the semantic web, but Parallax shows that there are more superficial problems. An unfriendly UI has been Freebase’s excuse for a long time, despite recent improvements to it. We love the idea of the semantic web, but give it’s grand daddy website a usable UI like Parallax and we’re left questioning just how much there really is inside Freebase anyway.
For an alternate view see Alex Iskold’s Freebase: Dispelling the Skepticism, and some fault here may lay in the coolness ratio of the video to the Parallax app, but for now – we feel inclined to look elsewhere for the “semantic web killer app.”
Disclosure: The author has consulting relationships with a number of pre-launched semantic web companies.