A guide to Freebase

Freebase is an open, collaborative graph-based database containing over 40 million entities covering topics such as people, places, organisations, music/film/tv/media, and many more.

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It is in many ways similar to the popular and well known Wikipedia – especially in the collaborative editing approach, as anyone can sign up and contribute. However there are a two key reasons why we prefer Freebase over Wikipedia: firstly Freebase is a database, rather than a text-based wiki, and represents data in a much more rigorously structured manner; and secondly the editorial policy is much more inclusive in Freebase (Wikipedia has strong notions of what it considers to be verifiable “encyclopedic content”, and articles on topics that are deemed to have insufficient “notability” are often removed).

It is worth reading about the basic concepts in Freebase, though at the most basic level the organisational structure can be summarised as follows:

  •  There are a number of top level Domains (eg business, people, music), each containing a large number of Topics (entities within those domains).
  • Each Topic is described using properties, which associate it with other Topics or text/numeric values

This graph based data model is very similar to that used in the Linked Data technologies employed within this portal (see data sources, exposed).

Searching freebase

Anyone can use Freebase as a reference resource without having to register or log in.

The header section on each page has a search box in the upper left corner, next to the Freebase logo. From here you can search for names or topics, and begin browsing.

Editing existing topics in Freebase

Editing in Freebase is quite straightforward, however it is not immediately obvious how to do so within the interface (sadly the help/documentation is a little lacking as well…)

If you have found an existing topic that you wish to edit, first you must register via the “Sign in or Sign up” link at the top right. This will require the creation of a Google account, if you do not already have one, but this is a simple sign-up with your email address.

Once signed in and you have navigated to the required page, locate the property which you wish to edit. For a given property you can both add new values, or edit existing ones. By hovering your pointer over the name of the property (eg Official website) a pop-up will appear detailing the purpose of that property, and a small yellow drop down arrow will appear from the left hand side, as shown below

Clicking on the drop down icon presents a menu from which you can select to edit existing values, or add new ones.

Once you have found this relatively hidden function, editing is straightforward, though do remember to click “save” after adding/editing each entry, and “done” once finished with a particular property.

Note that some descriptions are automatically imported into Freebase from Wikipedia. These are shown with a light grey Wikipedia tag at the end of the text, and are not editable in Freebase, rather they are automatically kept in sync with their source at Wikipedia. Unfortunately, if you want to change these values you must do so by editing Wikipedia, though by doing so you will update in (at least) three places for the price of one 🙂

Adding new topics to Freebase

If you wish to add a new Topic, such as an organisation, person or research area, you must first find the most appropriate Domain and type for the topic in question. Typically these are


Selecting either of the above links will show the properties available for these types of entity, and (bizairely hidden) the option to add a new entity of this type. On the far right hand side of the dark bar separating the header section from the main page content there is a settings or “cog” icon, which reveals a drop down menu containing “Add topic”.

When adding a topic you must fill out the mandatory values (usually just name) before clicking “create”. You can then edit this topic and it’s properties as you would any other.

If you do add new topics to Freebase, please drop us a note at photonics-support@seme4.com with a link to your new topic to ensure we don’t miss your addition and that the data is included in the portal as soon as possible. Generally it takes a couple of days before Freebase pushes changes through to their Linked Data representations, and then it should be incorporated into the Photonics Portal almost immediately after that.

Freebase and the Google Graph

Google’s “knowledge graph” is the latest advancement in empowering their search engine technology, and helps populate the summary boxes you often see to the right hand side of search results describing people, organisations, books, films, etc. You can find out more on the Google blog.

Adding data about your organisation (or even yourself) to Freebase may well help inform the results returned via the knowledge graph, and/or improve prominence in search results, so is well worth the effort.

If you do add new topics to Freebase, please drop us a note at photonics-support@seme4.com to ensure we don’t miss it and your data is included in the portal as soon as possible.

Data included within the Portal

We currently utilise the following fields from Freebase pages…

  • common.topic.description
  • common.topic.image
  • common.topic.official_website