freebase.bmpMetaweb Technologies is a new start-up seeking to create a massive public database that will store all of the world’s digital information, creating what one insider calls the “synapses for the global brain.”

Led by Danny Hillis, an expert in intelligent machines, it has an ambition akin to Google, but built from the beginning to allow free access, to be highly categorized and allow machines to talk it in more sophisticated ways.

The New York Times’ John Markoff has the story about the company, to be announced today. At its core is the database, called Freebase. From the story:

On the Web, there are few rules governing how information should be organized. But in the Metaweb database, to be named Freebase, information will be structured to make it possible for software programs to discern relationships and even meaning.

For example, an entry for California’s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, would be entered as a topic that would include a variety of attributes or “views” describing him as an actor, athlete and politician — listing them in a highly structured way in the database.

That would make it possible for programmers and Web developers to write programs allowing Internet users to pose queries that might produce a simple, useful answer rather than a long list of documents.

The information will be freely available under a public license, however the company plans to build a business around it by organizing proprietary information — likely by pulling and then structuring data from the database in a way that is useful for other businesses.

It is one of the grand ideas, so obvious in hindsight, but so gargantuan in ambition that it takes someone with unusual imagination to propose doing it. This should be fun to watch.