For years, Web experts have predicted that the next generation of Internet search products would go beyond results based on keywords or short phrases and be able to understand more complex queries.
Search giant Google (GOOG) took a big step Friday to augment its own efforts in this area by acquiring semantic search startup Metaweb in order to "improve search and make the web richer and more meaningful for everyone." Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Metaweb has raised $57 million in venture capital, which suggests the purchase price was not cheap.
Metaweb, a five-year old startup co-founded by veteran Silicon Valley entrepreneur Danny Hillis, has built a massive database, called Freebase, of what it calls "entities," which helps distinguish between confusing search terms like "Boston," which can refer to the city in Massachusetts, dozens of other towns around the world, or the '70s-era rock band.
Google says it plans to use the database of "over 12 million things, including movies, books, TV shows, celebrities, locations, companies and more" to improve its search results. Google says it will keep Freebase free and open.
"We plan to contribute to and further develop Freebase and would be delighted if other web companies use and contribute to the data," Jack Menzel, a Google director of product management, wrote in a blog post. "We believe that by improving Freebase, it will be a tremendous resource to make the web richer for everyone."
With efforts like rich snippets and the search answers feature, we're just beginning to apply our understanding of the web to make search better. Type [barack obama birthday] in the search box and see the answer right at the top of the page. Or search for [events in San Jose] and see a list of specific events and dates. We can offer this kind of experience because we understand facts about real people and real events out in the world. But what about [colleges on the west coast with tuition under $30,000] or [actors over 40 who have won at least one oscar]? These are hard questions, and we've acquired Metaweb because we believe working together we'll be able to provide better answers.
Here's a video explaining what Metaweb does: