Google Gets Semantic: Buys Metaweb

Google (s GOOG) today announced it had acquired Metaweb Technologies, the ambitious startup building a database of all the web’s information called Freebase. Metaweb was yet another semantic web startup before its time, but with the help of Google it now has the potential to make a much bigger impact.

This is Google’s second big search acquisition this month, with the first being ITA Software, which specializes in aggregating and distributing structured data about air travel. While the ITA price tag was $700 million, the Metaweb price was not disclosed.

San Francisco-based Metaweb was founded by the widely admired Thinking Machines founder Danny Hillis (though he is not on Metaweb’s management team, but serves as chairman of the board). It had raised a ton of funding: $57.5 million from Goldman Sachs, Benchmark Capital, DAG Ventures, Omidyar Network, and Millennium Technology Ventures. In addition to the free Freebase, Metaweb offers widgets and more custom integrations for content providers to organize web content around concepts. It calls itself “a switchboard for the web.”

Google said it wants to use Metaweb to help handle complicated and hard-to-understand search queries by getting a better understanding of the 12 million people, places and things in Freebase and how they relate to each other. It will continue to operate Freebase “as a free and open database for the world,” and will be upping the frequency of its regular data dumps to every week. However, Metaweb content widgets will no longer be available to publishers who haven’t used them before, the company said in a blog post.

For more on Google’s visions for the future of search, check out this post on Engadget about a talk by the company’s Amit Singhal. Good weekend reading!