Paul Allen

It sure has been a busy couple of weeks for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. From squashing rumors about the sale of the Portland Trail Blazers to donating $300 million to brain science to live Tweeting James Cameron’s historic submarine voyage to the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, it has been a full slate of activities for the 59-year-old billionaire.

Oh yeah, amid all of this, we learned that Allen was the victim of identity theft.

Now, Allen is putting some of his cash behind a new project called Wikidata that’s designed to make it easier for information to be updated across a variety of Wikipedia pages. The new project, an offshoot of Wikimedia’s German chapter, would allow one editor to make a change to a Wikipedia page and have that populate various language pages associated with that topic.

Here’s how it will work:

Many Wikipedia articles contain facts and connections to other articles that are not easily understood by a computer, like the population of a country or the place of birth of an actor. In Wikidata you will be able to enter that information in a way that makes it processable by the computer. This means that the machine can provide it in different languages, use it to create overviews of such data, like lists or charts, or answer questions that can hardly be answered automatically today.

The ultimate goal of Wikidata is to create a common data repository for the information.

In addition to Allen — who is donating to the project through the Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence — Google and Intel co-founder Gordon Moore are backing the effort. The initial grant is for $1.7 million, with development on Wikidata slated to begin next month.

Here’s the press release on the new project:

The German chapter of the international Wikimedia movement, Wikimedia Deutschland, is starting the development of a new Wikimedia project, called Wikidata. Wikidata will provide a collaboratively edited database of the world’s knowledge. Its first goal is to support the more than 280 language editions of Wikipedia with one common source of structured data that can be used in all articles of the free encyclopedia. For example, with Wikidata the birth date of a person of public interest can be used in all Wikipedias and only needs to be maintained in one place. Moreover, like all of Wikidata’s information, the birth date will also be freely usable outside of Wikipedia. The common-source principle behind Wikidata is expected to lead to a higher consistency and quality within Wikipedia articles, as well as increased availability of information in the smaller language editions. At the same time, Wikidata will decrease the maintenance effort for the tens of thousands of volunteers working on Wikipedia.

The CEO of Wikimedia Deutschland, Pavel Richter, points out the pioneering spirit of Wikidata: “It is ground-breaking. Wikidata is the largest technical project ever undertaken by one of the 40 international Wikimedia chapters. Wikimedia Deutschland is thrilled and dedicated to improving data management of the world’s largest encyclopedia significantly with this project.”

Besides the Wikimedia projects, the data is expected to be beneficial for numerous external applications, especially for annotating and connecting data in the sciences, in e-Government, and for applications using data in very different ways. The data will be published under a free Creative Commons license.

The initial development of Wikidata is being funded with a major donation of 1.3 Million Euros, granted in half by the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence [ai](2). The institute supports long-range research activities that have the potential to accelerate progress in artificial intelligence. It was established in 2010 by Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen, whose contributions to philanthropy and the advancement of science and technology span more than 25 years.

“Wikidata is a simple and smart idea, and an ingenious next step in the evolution of Wikipedia,” said Dr. Mark Greaves, Vice President of the Allen Institute for Artifical Intelligence. “It will transform the way that encyclopedia data is published, made available, and used by a global audience. Wikidata will build on semantic technology that we have long supported, will accelerate the pace of scientific discovery, and will create an extraordinary new data resource for the world.”

One quarter of Wikidata’s initial funding is donated by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation through its Science program.

“It is important for science,” said Chris Mentzel, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation science program officer. “Wikidata will both provide an important data service on top of Wikipedia, and also be an easy-to-use, downloadable software tool for researchers, to help them manage and gain value from the increasing volume and complexity of scientific data.”

Google, Inc. provides another quarter of Wikidata’s funding. Chris DiBona (Director, Open Source) says: “Google’s mission is to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful. We’re therefore pleased to participate in the Wikidata project which we hope will make significant amounts of structured data available to all.”

Wikidata will be developed in three phases. The first phase is expected to be finished by August 2012. It will centralize links between the different language versions of Wikipedia in one place. In the second phase, editors will be able to add and use data in Wikidata. The results of the second phase are scheduled to be released in December 2012. The third and final phase will allow for the automatic creation of lists and charts based on the data in Wikidata. This will close the initial development process for Wikidata.

Wikimedia Deutschland will perform the initial development, and then hand over operation and maintenance of the project to the Wikimedia Foundation. This is planned to be achieved by March 2013. The team of eight developers is being led by Dr. Denny Vrandecic. He changed from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to Wikimedia Deutschland and is, together with Dr. Markus Krotzsch, of the University of Oxford, co-founder of the Semantic MediaWiki project, which has pursued the goals of Wikidata for the last few years. The proposal for Wikidata was developed with financial support by the EU project RENDER, which also involves Wikimedia Deutschland as a use-case partner.

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