[Freebase-discuss] is freebase a business?
stefanom at google.com
Tue Aug 10 21:12:07 UTC 2010
On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 2:01 PM, Kirrily Robert <skud at google.com> wrote:
> On Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 1:50 PM, Antonio Turdo <antonio.turdo at gmail.com>
> > Have Phil, Stefano and Thad responded publicly ? Where ?
> Sorry, that was me being REALLY STUPID and accidentally exposing
> private email. Ironic, isn't it? Apologies all round. *pounds head
> on desk*
I replied to the thread that had moved to private but I have no problem
copying what I wrote in public (slightly edited for context), so here is my
reply to Spencer:
Disclaimer:: Only speaking for myself with no hats or affiliation.
I spent 10 years of my life contributing to the Apache Software Foundation.
I was 24 when (just to give you an example) starwars.com was using part of
my code to run their multi-M$ e-commerce store... and I wasn't getting a
penny out of it. I saw the whole .com bubble inflate from my little room in
northern italy while going to college, contributing code to inflate it with
no financial compensation, while my dad was telling me how stupid and naive
I was contributing software that was used by others, making those others
Then the bubble went. My friends that moved to California (and dropped out
of college for it) lost their jobs...and now they can't get a visa to come
to the US because they don't have a college degree (even if they're highly
I finished my degree and with my name attached to very prominent software
projects (tomcat, ant, jmeter, cocoon, harmony to name a few), I started to
consult. These people were paying big bucks to have me tell them how I would
do things differently, or to certify with their bosses that their technical
decisions were reasonable.
I got invited to speak at conferences, where I met people, exchanged ideas,
grew my social network. All things you can't really buy but they are really
Thru such conferences I met people at MIT. They offered me a job. Got a visa
and moved to Boston. There I met other people, enlarged my social network
even more, got to challenge myself with very big ideas and dreams. I was
making very little money compared to my friends working in big
corporations.... but I always felt I was in the right place, I was
exchanging money for potential impact.
Then the MIT project ended, David got a job at Metaweb and convinced me to
follow him. I accepted because I thought Metaweb had a real shot at it.
Then Google agreed too and bought Metaweb.
If I had followed my dad's advice and stopped contributing to something just
because I wasn't directly compensated for it financially, now I would be a
sad programmer in some irrelevant italian software house, making web sites
for other companies or the government, bored to death.
Instead, because I did what felt right (and I was blessed with a big dose of
luck!), now I'm proud to be part of this team and having real shot at making
the web of data a reality.
this is to say that I completely understand how you feel and how stressful
your situation can feel having contributed so much of your time and energy
to this project and perceiving that others are profiting directly from your
work..... I know this because I was in your exact situation not long ago.
I think it's an understandable yet shortsighted view of your situation: the
knowledge and expertise you acquired during such volunteer effort is
something that will be very valuable in the future if the rest of the data
world is influenced by how we do things around here. And with Google around
the chances of that went up, not down!
Can Freebase be more open? sure it can. Even Apache or Mozilla or Google
itself are far from perfect and always trying to improve. And we have a long
way to go to catch up or invent our own special practices where others'
But was your contribution to Freebase a waste? was it abused? I don't think
so and I have my own career to prove it: I had to go thru years of people
benefiting from my work before it was my turn to benefit from it myself....
but in doing so, I did in 10 years what most people do in 30, and having fun
doing it! All that is invaluable and the things I learned, and the people I
met, help me every single day making better decisions for myself, both
technically and strategically.
So, this is my advice to you: keep doing what you feel it's right for you
even when your family or friends don't understand it and even if that means
criticizing us harshly for doing stuff that you think is wrong or could be
We need that kind of honest input more than Google's financial support if we
really want Freebase to be as successful as we want it to be.
And remember: the more successful Freebase is in shaping how others see the
world of entities and structured open data, the more valuable your
contribution will remain, both for your own sense of reward but also for the
market in general.
Which means, at the end, that we're all in the same boat after all, even if
we'll be paid by different people to continue such contributions.
And that, in my mind, is what defines a community vs. a business. We're not
there yet, but I don't see anything in Freebase that inherently precludes it
All of us, we just need to be better at it. Hopefully, with your help and
your honest constructive criticism.
Thanks for listening.
Stefano Mazzocchi <stefanom at google.com>
Software Engineer, Google Inc.
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