Why Did Google Make an Announcement During Apple's Press Conference?

Here's a head-scratcher: Google put up a blog post about a new acquisition halfway through Apple's antenna announcement this afternoon.

Google just acquired Metaweb, which maintains an open database of real-world things, such as movies, books, TV shows, celebrities, locations, companies. In a blog post, the search giant's Director of Product Management Jack Menzel writes that Metaweb and Freebase, that free and open database of 12 million things, could help improve its search results. If you're looking for, say, "steve jobs' birthday", Google delivers the answer -- 24 February, 1955 -- at the top of the results.

We can offer this kind of experience because we understand facts about real people and real events out in the world. But what about [colleges on the west coast with tuition under $30,000] or [actors over 40 who have won at least one oscar]? These are hard questions, and we've acquired Metaweb because we believe working together we'll be able to provide better answers.

Menzel writes that Google plans to maintain Freebase, which developers can access and pull information from for free. The weird thing is that the announcement was made at 10:38am PST, right in the middle of the press conference in which Apple announced it was giving free cases to all iPhone 4 customers. The conference ran roughly from 10am to 11:30am. Steve Jobs hosted it, the antenna problems have been the talk of tech blogs for weeks, and the press conference was announced a couple days ago. That it was a major tech news event should come as no surprise, especially to another tech company.

And acquisitions are typically occasions to share good news. Why buy something you're unenthusiastic about? To top it off, the Metaweb acquisition actually seems like a cool purchase. A 12 million-entry database is impressive, especially when you consider that Wikipedia only has 3 million entries. Tim O'Reilly, the founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, approvingly tweeted that it's an "important step" in the convergence of the Semantic Web and Web 2.0 thinking. "I like it," he wrote. It's positive news, so why bury the announcement?

Disclaimer: My brother works at Google in public affairs.


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Niraj Chokshi is a former staff editor at TheAtlantic.com, where he wrote about technology. He is currently freelancing and can be reached through his personal website, NirajC.com. More

Niraj previously reported on the business of the nation's largest law firms for The Recorder, a San Francisco legal newspaper. He has also been published in The Hartford Courant, The Seattle Times and The Age, in Melbourne, Australia. He's also a longtime programmer and sometimes website designer.

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