Notes on Freebase BootCamp session

I’ve been hearing about Freebase for awhile now, especially from Jon Voss, who organized and ran THATCamp Bay Area, so I figured I’d go to that BootCamp session here at THATCamp SoCal. I’m very, very glad I did. It was taught by Kirrily Robert, who’s Skud on Twitter. As I said on Twitter, I had thought that Freebase was simply a place where people could upload their datasets, and it is that. But it’s also a rather amazing project that’s a bit difficult to explain if you don’t know what open linked data is. And if you don’t know what open linked data is, why then the rather charming animated video that Kirrily showed us might be of use (it’s about “Metaweb,” which is the name of the company that owned Freebase before Google recently bought it, but it gives the idea — www.metaweb.com will now resolve to freebase.com):

Kirrily is the developer liaison for Freebase, but I thought she did a great job of pitching the workshop to us non-developer humanist types, and I think that the actual developers who were there (including Joyce Ouchida from USC) probably also got a good idea of what Freebase is all about and what they could do with it. We started by looking at the Freebase page for William Blake:

the William Blake Freebase page

You may notice (I did) that a good bit of Freebase content comes from Wikipedia; one of the things that struck me like a hammer about Freebase is how purely factual it is. And, later, how it’s the relations between things that constitutes Freebase’s “entity graph,” not prose — the video above even begins by evoking what a pain words are and how their meanings are contingent. It’s all very poststructuralist. I love it.

We moved quickly into editing, which wasn’t any harder (in fact quite a bit easier) than editing Wikipedia. I did a good bit of work on my pet go-to topic, the villanelle, adding several instances of “poems of this form” (Bishop’s “One Art,” for instance, for which I also had to create a page in Freebase, though others, such as Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” already had pages). We then looked at how to construct Freebase queries in MQL, Meta Query Language, and we talked about how to use Google Refine to clean up Excel data sets for use in Freebase. (That alone was a terrific tool to learn about.)

What I’m wondering now is whether Freebase might even be a better site to send students to for factual information research than Wikipedia; I’m not sure. In the session, I asked what Freebase is for: whether it’s a destination research site or a provider of structured semantic data for developers. Kirrily said that they had discussed that very question rather a lot at Freebase, and that their usage statistics show that the latter use is by far the more common. If I did more development, I can definitely see how I’d be all over Freebase’s linked data — so, so useful in building applications. Kirrily mentioned one example at conflicthistory.com. It made me think seriously about building something I’ve had in mind for some time: a site backed by a database of poetic forms in which poems are tagged with their forms (sonnet, triolet, villanelle etc.) and other features, and I can see that sucking in some of the existing Freebase data to that would save a load of work. I went out and registered poeticforms.org right away, in fact.

Anyway, thanks Kirrily and THATCamp SoCal — this was a great session.

Categories: General |

About Amanda French

(Please ask any THATCamp questions on the THATCamp forums at http://thatcamp.org/forums — I’m no longer THATCamp Coordinator.)

I am now a member of the THATCamp Council, and I am the former THATCamp Coordinator and Research Assistant Professor at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, in which capacity I provided support for THATCamp organizers and participants, maintained http://thatcamp.org, traveled to some (not all!) THATCamps, and directed large-scale projects such as the Proceedings of THATCamp. Before that, I worked with the NYU Archives and Public History program on an NHPRC-funded project to create a model digital curriculum for historian-archivists. I held the Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoctoral Fellowship at NCSU Libraries from 2004 to 2006, and afterward taught graduate and undergraduate courses at NCSU in Victorian literature and poetry as well as in the digital humanities and in advanced academic research methods. At the University of Virginia, while earning my doctorate in English, I encoded texts in first SGML and then XML for the Rossetti Archive and the Electronic Text Center. My 2004 dissertation was a history of the villanelle, the poetic form of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”