Google takes a step today toward locking horns with Facebook over creating a smarter Web. The Sultan of Search announced it has acquired Metaweb, a fledgling outfit that's been working on packaging information on the Internet so it can be searched and connected in more meaningful ways than nests of links.
Yahoo - "Over time we've improved search by deepening our understanding of queries and web pages," Jack Menzel writes today in The Official Google Blog.
He went on to say, "The web isn't merely words -- it's information about things in the real world, and understanding the relationships between real-world entities can help us deliver relevant information more quickly."
"Today," he adds, "we've acquired Metaweb, a company that maintains an open database of things in the world. Working together we want to improve search and make the web richer and more meaningful for everyone."
Noble sentiments, indeed. But what exactly is Menzel getting at? He's talking about being able to conduct searches that are closer to a scalpel than a jackhammer. he explains it this way:
"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."
Google, though, isn't the only one looking for those answers. Facebook is looking for them, too. In the spring, its announced its Open Graph initiative. Open Graph is also trying to tie together the far corners of the Web into packages that can be more meaningful to its users. "Yelp is mapping out the part of the graph that relates to small businesses," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly told an audience at the company's F8 developer's conference in April. "Pandora is mapping out the part of the graph that relates to music. If we can take these separate maps of the graph and pull them all together, then we can create a Web that's smarter, more social, more personalized, and more semantically aware."
In their quest for a more perfect Web, though, it appears the two giants could be heading for a collision course over metadata. The metadata for Facebook's initiative could create a rival structure to what Metaweb has built, argues Kim-Mai Cutter at the Deals & More website
"And," she adds, "because Facebook has the 'like' data recording the preferences of its 500 millions users, it would be in the best position to harness the metadata to create a compelling search product."
Needless to say, the prospect of a compelling search product from anyone but Google isn't going to make anyone at Google very happy.