Metaweb Technologies, a spin off from Applied Minds, aims to build a better infrastructure for the web. The company, co-founded by Danny Hillis, was spun off in January 2005, and is based in San Francisco, California. Its primary product is Freebase, ‘an open, shared database of the world’s knowledge’. This database is free to use and anyone can make contributions, query, build applications on it and use it in their own websites. The information in the database covers topics ranging from sports and money to society and the arts. Freebase is currently in Alpha.
According to Metaweb, the company provides access to its technology through an API program and may charge users a fee depending on the commercial versus non-commercial nature of the API use and extent of services required by a developer. In the future, it may also sell ad space for relevant ads next to the content.
In March 2006, Metaweb raised $15 million from a group of investors that included Benchmark Capital, Millennium Technology Ventures and Omidyar Network. According to TechCrunch, in January 2008 the company raised $42 million in its Series B round from Benchmark Capital and Goldman Sachs. This was the biggest Series B round for any company in the previous twelve months. Total financing to date is $57 million.
And the company hasn’t even launched yet.
Wikipedia and GoogleBase are two of Freebase’s database competitors. An article in CrunchBase describes the differences among the three offerings. The main difference between Wikipedia and Freebase is that Wikipedia arranges information in the form of articles while Freebase lists statistics and facts and covers more lesser-known topics. Topics in Freebase are organized by “category”. GoogleBase, on the other hand, has no community editing tool and only allows users to access data, not add or edit.
Although Metaweb has received broad media coverage, its traffic numbers are not very impressive. According to Compete, the people count for May 2008 was approximately 42,000. Quantcast reports slightly more than 8,000 uniques per month. That’s because the site is still in Alpha mode.
Tim O’Reilly has a review of Metaweb’s ambitions in which he highlights the company’s aspirations to be a technology for converting a large repository of unstructured data to structured, organized information. It is supposed to have some sort of a large metadata “map” of relationships between different pieces of data that are “characterized”.
Anyway, it’s an ambitious project, the closest parallel to which can be found in Kosmix, which has launched itself as a vertical search engine using taxonomies. Kosmix is already generating annual revenue in the range of $10 million.
Metaweb, however, has chosen not to go vertical, something that in my opinion would have allowed them to launch and ramp up a long time back, instead of this $57 million alpha.
Anyway, we shall see if Danny Hillis delivers.
This segment is a part in the series : Deal Radar 2008