“Factual” builds a data commons

factual_blackwhite_logo.pngQS folks who have been interested in and contributing to the creation of a new data commons: you may want to check out Factual. Factual is a Los Angeles startup whose goal is to host any kind of quantitative data in a convenient, open, and mashable architecture. It was created by Gil Elbaz, and launched about 6 weeks ago.

Here is how Factual describes itself:

Factual is a platform where anyone can share and mash open data on any subject. For example, you might find a directory of
California restaurants,
a database of
endocrinologists,
or a list of
American Idol finalists.
We
provide smart tools to help the community build and maintain a trusted
source of structured data. And this data can be used through widgets
and APIs to help application developers and content publishers be more
innovative and productive.

Often, data is difficult to find and access, inaccurate, and
sometimes expensive. Information seekers are often overwhelmed with too
many, often contradictory sources or frustrated by too few. Today,
access to clean and reliable structured data is still a headache.

Factual was founded to provide open access to better structured
data. And that means developers can build more innovative apps,
publishers can access high-quality content, and ultimately, everyone,
can make better decisions. More specifically, we offer:

  • An open data repository.
    We think a good route to low or zero cost and high quality data is
    the open data model.By making data open to access (read) so
    that developers can create valuable new applications , and by making
    the data open for opinion, comment, and debate (write) – we hope to
    catalyze support for certain data verticals.

  • Collaborative tools.
    We help communities collaborate real-time on open data projects, whether by manually adding a single value or
    uploading
    an entire dataset.

  • Data accountability.
    For each fact, we store user inputs, sources, citations — basically a fully documented (and computable) history.

  • Data sourcing and improvement.Our methods include
    capturing existing non-proprietary data, user and community
    contributions, content partnerships, and sophisticated data improvement
    tools that algorithmically discover, mine, and merge data.

Here is an excerpt of an interview with Elbaz by the Southern California news site Social Tech.


What’s your new startup all about, and why did you start the company?

Gil Elbaz: What we have been working on, and what we offer now, is a
platform where anyone can share and mash open data. It’s so much more
than that, but that crystallizes the key thing. That data can be on any
subject–we’re a horizontal platform–and a few of the examples you see
on our site are a list of restaurants, things in the health space, and
other partnerships. We see this as a community built on a trusted
repository of structured data, something which ultimately helps
everyone make decisions. Publishers can come and snap valuable data
into our website, to augment end user’s experience, and developers can
help user our data and our API to build more innovative applications,
and to be more productive because of the significant availability of
this trusted data.

It really came from seeing that–even this far along in the
evolution of the Internet–there is still a lot of ambiguous data out
there. There is a challenge around access to good, clean, and
structured data in a good format, with clarity around where it came
from, and whether it should be trusted. That makes the lives of
developers difficult. The government has terrific sources, but there
isn’t a simple place where you can find that data. We have improvement
tools, and you can either use our technology or leverage the community
to improve the data and clean that data. Our philosophy is that data
drives the best types of decisions, but if you have bad data, you have
bad data driving your decision.

If you are experimenting with Factual, please let us know what you think.

(Thanks to @jensmccabe for the tip.)

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6 Responses to “Factual” builds a data commons

  1. Tom Heath says:

    Hi,
    An interesting new venture, but as a proposition, how does this differ from, say, Freebase?
    Cheers, Tom.

  2. anon says:

    Hey, Factual’s great! I’ll be using it

  3. Grant Nestor says:

    Hi Tom,
    Grant here, from Factual. Two main differences between Freebase and Factual:
    1. Freebase presents data in topic pages, Factual presents data in tables. Topic pages are friendly for reading, tables are friendly for data manipulation and mashing.
    2. Freebase works like a wiki: old data is overwritten by new data. Factual has a different approach: old data is “aggregated” with new data. What this means is that a cell in a Factual table may contain x many values from x many sources. These values are aggregated, using the mean, mode, or most recent value (wiki), and what gets displayed is the “consensus value.”
    Thanks for reading. I’m happy to answer more questions.
    Grant

  4. Gilles Frydman says:

    I think the approach that Factual is taking is game changing. It is the first tool that offers us the ability to enter the coming world of social structured data. Thanks to the tools offered by Factual we will soon be able to say that patients and caregivers have now gone “From Social Media to Social Data and Back!”
    For example, we have been seeing how patients have been augmenting their conversations with some crude forms of data collection. I say crude because, even though the technologies used to collect this data have become more and more advanced, they have not afforded those inputting the data the ultimate choice: changing the schema used to collect their data. At a time when we are demanding “Gimme my damn data!” and petitioning the healthcare system to obtain our Health Data Rights what could be more fitting than to be able to discuss and change health data collection schemas in a crowdsourcing fashion?
    And that is the huge difference with Freebase!

  5. Chris Grayson says:

    Just to add a little to the conversation, for those interested in the subject of open data, you should also look at DataChimps, DataMarketplace and Pachube.
    cheers,
    Chris

  6. Chris Michaels says:

    Factual’s API has definitely changed how developers can access and use open data. As their data repository expands they’re going to be a go-to for designers building new sites. At the other end of the spectrum, at FindTheBest.com we’re working on improving the consumer’s experience with open data.

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