Metaweb, the creators of Freebase — billed as “an open, shared database of the world’s knowledge” — has hired a new director of community. A big part of her role will be to grow and renew community involvement to support that mission.
“We have this solid backend, lovely web site, an API that is pretty stable, so the platform is there,” says Kirrly Robert, recently transplanted from Australia to California to take on the challenge. “Phase two, which we are now entering, is to build up the data and community. This is a database of the world’s information — we want to have everything in there.”
“Shoveling it in there takes a lot of people. We can’t do that as a company on our own — we need the world to join in with us,” Robert says.
As Freebase prepares to enter the beta stage, the small, tight-knit team that has built Metaweb has to move from being heads-down working on the platform to “opening it up and talking to the whole world,” she says. “That’s changed the focus and importance of the community aspect of things.”
“Bootstrapping” is the word Robert uses to describe her goals. For every piece of data Freebase puts into its database, it gets one piece of data back. That’s nice, but she’s looking for the snowball effect of crowd involvement.
“What can we do that causes five people to get enthused to do something else that causes 25 people to get enthused. So, instead of us shoveling data in, we want to organize data mobs around topics that may be interesting or controversial or have some personal applicability to people. Then if you can get a member of the community to edit one topic, next they are clicking to another. It’s like when three hours pass while you’re on Wikipedia and how did you get there. We want to trigger that behavior and get the community to support each other to build a rolling ball of enthusiasm.”
How so? For starters, Robert sees that the community is already broad as well as overlapping, extending from those who just casually drop by to find a fact (such as how Franklin Delano Roosevelt died) to those who develop against the Freebase API, to those who want to share use the platform to build a community around their domain-specific interests (be it vintage motorcycles or tofu recipes), to those who are Creative Commons fans and the idea that information should be free.