MapIt – a Freebase Google Maps builder (updated)

May 31, 2007

My latest version of MapIt has a better GUI. Less black-magic going on now.

Try it (probably Firefox only for now)

mapit builder

Building a query:
origin of rivers + image



Resulting mashup
showing Freebase rivers on Google Earth

Example maps:

Let me know if you manage to build any interesting maps. Feedback and bug reports very welcome.


Mapit – a Freebase Google Maps builder

May 14, 2007

 Sorry, this program no longer works. I’d love to fix it but I really don’t have time right now.

Mapit is my first attempt at a usable map-builder for Freebase. The goal is to enable ordinary users to build their own Freebase / Google Maps mashups. (Freebase account required – ask me if you need an invite. Tested on Firefox) Mapit screenshot I spent most of the weekend underground so I didn’t have much time to work on the GUI. It would be great to make something like Yahoo Pipes. But even this work-in-progress version of Mapit is pretty powerful. My previous map of Freebase Users can now be generated in 6 mouse clicks. Examples:

I know that there is loads of scope for improvement and bug fixes. Comments very welcome.

 Sorry, this program no longer works. I’d love to fix it but I really don’t have time right now. 

Freebase + Ruby

May 11, 2007

Jan is working on a Ruby connector for Freebase.

His initial results look really promising:

metallica = Freebase.find(:first, :name => 'Metallica', :type => '/music/artist')
=> ["Kill 'Em All", "Ride the Lightning", "Garage Days Re-Revisited", "...and Justice for All", "Harvester of Sorrow"]
=> ["Metal"]

Way to go Jan! This is definitely a glimpse of the future, high-level programming with the world’s knowledge at your finger tips.

Freebase invites up for grabs

May 9, 2007

Update: Freebase no longer requires invites

Freebase logo

At the time of my BarcampBrussels talk on Freebase I didn’t have any invites to give away. Now I’ve got some. Leave a comment here if you’d like one.

Freebase users on Google Maps, a mash-up

May 8, 2007

Here is my mash-up showing Freebase users on Google Maps:

Freebase users on Google Maps

  • You can search by username and fullname. Example “john”.
  • MQL regexp is supported. Example “^j*” (all users that start with j)
  • Or just show everybody (with a geocode). Example: Everybody

Issues raised:

  • Some location data was foobar. Karlsruhe, Germany is shown in Somalia 🙂 Data fixed
  • How could I add a user’s image? Done.
    Freebase data-model weirdness? Why is there an empty picture_s field and a /common/image field for a user_profile?
  • I have to make two almost identical queries (searching name and my_full_name) because of a lack of an OR construct in MQL. This seems pretty inefficient. Can anybody suggest a better way? Done:Kurt suggested using “/type/reflect” reflection properties (not for the faint of heart!)
  • Is there a clean way of being informed when all MJT tasks have completed?

Feedback very welcome.


  • May 9th: Added button navigation and profile photos
  • May 11th: Various user interface improvements + Kurt’s solution for a single MQL query.
  • Nov 07: Fixed broken links

Freebase, a quick reality check

May 7, 2007

With Freebase you can do amazing queries that would be impossible with Google or the Wikipedia. As Jan commented on my BrusselsBarcamp talk, you could “Look for actors from Ghent who were born between 1970 and 1999“.

Well let’s give it a shot. Here’s the Javascript query to do just that:


(Drum roll please …) and here are the results:


Nada. There ain’t no data in Freebase on Belgian actors from Ghent in their twenties 😦

And that’s the frustrating thing about Freebase. The data just isn’t there yet and it’s going to take a massive amount of data-entry to fulfill it’s promise. On the positive side, their API allows write access and there are a lot of open data sources out there so at least it doesn’t all have to be entered manually.

( … a few minutes pass while Will does some manual data-entry … )

Let’s re-run that same query:

"name":"Franky Lanckacker",
"name":"Miguel Wiels",

Now the world knows about Franky Lanckacker and Miguel Wiels 🙂

Freebase is an exciting idea and it may well be the next big thing, but it’s got to reach critical mass in terms of data and users to become really useful.

  • PS I cheated a little, Jan originally said 1980 (rather than 1970) but I just couldn’t find Ghent actors under 27 on the internet.
  • PPS Updated: Improved query as per Daniel’s suggestion below. (I couldn’t figure out how to constrain to type person AND type tv_actor)

Barcamp Brussels – My Freebase talk

May 5, 2007

BarCamp Brussels was interesting as always. There was a good mixture of technical and non-technical talks and the conversations were very simulating. Many thanks to Peter for all his hard work.

Freebase logo

After playing around with Freebase for a few days I’m convinced this could be big. So I thought it would make a great BarCamp talk. There was indeed a lot of interest, many developers get the idea that Freebase could be an amazing place to put any public data that you need maintained for your project.

Typical questions people asked about Freebase:

  • How can a database work if anybody can edit the types? – you can only create and edit types in your own namespace. If they become popular then they can be promoted to the main namespace
  • What mechanisms are in place for resolving the inevitable edit wars? – Right now domain administrators have final control, I imagine that with time as the community grows, a consensus will form about policies (like in the Wikipedia)
  • How many users are there? – I guess around 2000 right now.
  • Does the API support anything other than JSON? – No, but it certainly could. (And JSON is so easy to work with)
  • Where is Freebase coming out of Alpha? – No idea
  • Why isn’t the General Overview Demo video on their public site? – No idea, I think it’s a very good intro to Freebase, a screencast works so much better than text.
  • What is their business model? – The data is licensed Creative Commons Attribution so anybody can use it even commercially for free. However the Database software (by Metaweb) isn’t open source. I imagine that Freebase will be a kick-ass demo of the Metaweb software which might convince many companies to dump their inflexible nasty-UI database software and start using Metaweb’s.

And most common of all:

  • Can I get an invite for Freebase? – add a comment to this blog and I’ll send you one as soon as I get some.