Community Indicators for Your Community

Real, lasting community change is built around knowing where you are, where you want to be, and whether your efforts are making a difference. Indicators are a necessary ingredient for sustainable change. And the process of selecting community indicators -- who chooses, how they choose, what they choose -- is as important as the data you select.

This is an archive of thoughts I had about indicators and the community indicators movement. Some of the thinking is outdated, and many of the links may have broken over time.

Thursday, September 6, 2007 Now Opened

Good news for data fans! is now available to read without registering.

Don't know about Feebase yet? It's "an open, online data community provided by Metaweb Technologies. While in alpha, Freebase is targeted for developers and 'data fanatics' who can help provide valuable feedback for our Beta launch."

What that means is that it's still in development, and you still need an invitation in order to register and help add data (which is easy to get -- just give them an e-mail address and ask for an invite.)

But as of the beginning of this month, you can poke your head in and see what's happening. And it's kind of exciting. Kind of like Numberpedia, it's a way to organize information and search interesting data points. But it's got an interesting framework that those of us who appreciate data may enjoy. Here's a couple of excerpts from the FAQ:

Freebase is a uniquely structured database that you can easily search, add to and edit; you can also use the data in it to power your own projects. It’s a data commons in the way that a public square is a land commons—available to anyone to use.

Freebase covers millions of topics in hundreds of categories. It’s been seeded with a few million topics from open sources, including
Wikipedia and Musicbrainz, and while the first topics have mostly been in media categories like movies, music, and television, the Freebase community has already added thousands more topics on subjects from philosophy to European railway stations to the chemical properties of ingredients.

In fact, part of what makes Freebase unique is that it spans domains—but requires that a particular topic exist only once in Freebase, even if it might normally be found in multiple databases. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger would appear in a movie database as an actor, a political database as a governor and a bodybuilder database as a Mr. Universe. In Freebase, there is only one topic for Arnold Schwarzenegger, with all three facets of his public persona brought together. The unified topic acts as an information hub, making it easy to find and contribute information about him.

In addition to reconciling many facets of one topic, the underlying structure of Freebase lets you run complex queries—that is, ask questions of the data—that are difficult or impossible to run in conventional databases. For example, if you ask Freebase for Jennifer Connelly films with actors who have appeared in a Steven Spielberg movie, you’ll get a tidy list of seven movies. The extra-cool part is that if you’re a developer, or just mildly technical, Freebase offers
tools that make it easy to query and integrate the data into web apps, blogs, wikis, user pages or anything else that would benefit from an injection of structured information.

How’s Freebase different from Wikipedia? From Google Base?

Wikipedia and Freebase both appeal to people who love to use and organize information. The difference lies in the way they store information. Wikipedia arranges information in the form of articles. Freebase lists facts and statistics. Freebase’s list form is good not only for people who like to glance at facts, but also for people who want to use the data to build other web sites and software.

Does that whet your appetite? Go take a look. This may end up being an incredibly useful tool for local indicator efforts. Plus, lots of fun data. How cool is that?


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