I just came across the site, DBpedia, which scrapes and structures information from Wikipedia, using the infobox templates and categorization information. I think this is a good use of information that is already out there.
An example application of this: someone made a program running off the DBpedia data that automatically builds timelines. I think that ajax timelines (like Simile) and graph roaming applets (like a Prefuse graph instance or the Roamer component for Flex) will be available as interfaces for Freebase soon.
While Freebase hasn’t pulled all the somewhat structured content it could from Wikipedia infoboxes etc., it does have the right set of tools and permissions to let users add content and structure. I like simple things like the interface for editing content – similar to editing titles on Flickr, you click on data to edit or add more. And it harnesses self-interest by letting users define content types to upload their data that potentially end up benefiting everyone else. This is exactly what I wanted 2 years ago when I suggested a standardized “influence” field to Wikipedia pages on people. I couldn’t get the attention of people on the community pages – but with Freebase I can suggest a type and demonstrate its usefulness without having to explain my rationale.
Basically I think Nick Carr is wrong when he says:
Although the wikipediaesque user-generated quality of Freebase will get much attention, Freebase is really more about the creation of a community of machines than a community of people. The essence of the Semantic Web is the development of a language through which computers can share meaning and hence operate at a higher, more human level of intelligence.
It’s all about the people – people defining content types and relations, people adding data, people building visual representations, and eventually people interpreting meaning from patterns. It seems backwards, like saying that computers use people to send emails to each other.
There is a related post by O’Reilly on Freebase, DBpedia, and harnessing self-interest.