Imagine a website where you could immediately access a list of all the action movie stars who wear size-10 shoes and have blonde hair, or a list of the cities in tropical climates with the highest rate of employment for recently graduated communications majors.
Such a resource is on the horizon.
In Germany, a group of pioneering Wikipedia enthusiasts are creating a searchable data trove they think will change the way people access information, and perhaps change the world itself.
The data trove, called Wikidata, is in an early development stage, with only a few paid Wikimedia Deutschland employees tackling the myriad technical and logistical issues involved in the daunting task of creating a community-edited database.
“It has a very simple idea. It wants to be the Wikipedia for data,” said Pavel Ritcher, CEO of Wikimedia Deutschland.
“Right now data is spread out, under license or hard to access because of technical reasons. We don’t know how it will change the world, but it will change the world.” Wikidata would allow users to enter any number of criteria, such as shoe size, blonde hair and action movie star, and then search the database for all the people who fit that description.
“Data is more than numbers, it’s the structural connection between things,” said Denny Vrandecic, project manager for Wikidata.
“Whenever you think about anything of interest and how they connect with each other in a structural way that is data.”
At a Wikimedia 2012 panel dedicated to the new venture held on Friday, the Wikidata development team explained the variety of ways the database could be used, and acknowledged there were certainly far more uses than they could imagine.
Mr. Vrandecic said they hope the database would include videos and pictures, and that it would allow scientists and researchers who have never met to collaborate on data sets.
Like Wikipedia, Wikidata’s data would be submitted by internet users and vetted by volunteer editors before inclusion in the database.
“We are open-source, and people do contribute (ideas) from all over the world, but the problem with open-source in development is keeping track of all the different developments being made,” Mr. Vrandecic told DPA.
As the panel fielded questions on Friday, it became apparent what a massive undertaking Wikidata is.
From the eternal question that surrounds Wiki projects — is the information reliable if anyone can add it? — to technical details such as creating a user-friendly platform accessible to people without computer science backgrounds, the development team is tackling a long list of potential complications.
Mr. Vrandecic said the entire project, scheduled to be released in spring 2013, depends on an online community forming around Wikidata that is dedicated to adding information and maintaining its quality.
“The idea is not to collect as much data on our site as possible, but to make it more useful. It is up to the community about what kind of data will be uploaded.” said Daniel Kinzler, one of the project’s members.
Before Wikidata is accessible to the general public, the development team will gather all the data included in the information boxes in the upper-right hand corner of most Wikipedia pages and add it to the database.
After that, it will be up to the internet community to upload data, organise it, check it for accuracy, and use it in whatever ways they can.
“You cannot change the world intentionally, you can only give the world the tools to change,” Ritcher told DPA.