Google, Yahoo and Bing may soon find themselves sharing the search engine spotlight with a non-commercial design meant to “democratize” discovery of reliable information on the Internet. Thanks to a $250,000 Knight Foundation grant, Wikipedia is kicking off a $2.5 million program to build what it’s claiming to be “the Internet’s first transparent search engine.” Whether the final design will take on the likes of Google remains a matter of debate, but the program’s leaders strongly deny having such a lofty goal.
Wikimedia Discovery is being developed by Wikipedia’s parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation. While the organization denies it’s meant to compete with major search engine players, speculation to the contrary is running high. Wikimedia’s own grant application to the Knight Foundation explains that “commercial search engines dominate search-engine use of the Internet, and they’re employing proprietary technologies to consolidate channels of access to the Internet’s knowledge and information.”
The Wikimedia Foundation envisions the new platform as a tool to “make the Internet’s most relevant information more accessible and openly curated, and it will create an open data engine that’s completely free of commercial interests.” To that end, the platform would include no advertising, protect user privacy and offer open data access to metadata that would provide users with an exact data source for the information they seek.
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Despite grant application wording that makes it seem Wikimedia is gunning for Google with the project, the organization denies that’s its intent. In a recent blog post, Wikimedia Executive Director Lila Tretikov and Vice President of Product Wes Moran flatly deny designs to take on larger players. “We intend to research how Wikimedia users seek, find and engage with content,” they wrote. “We’re not building a global crawler search engine.”
Whether the initial intent for Wikimedia Discovery, formerly called the Knowledge Engine, was to take on Google remains unclear. As grant application language indicates, that may indeed have been the original intent. Some suggest objections from within the Wikimedia community itself may have given rise to an alteration in the project’s aim. Wikipedia editor and author of The Wikipedian blog, William Beutler was quoted by Motherboard as saying a disconnect exists between the community and Wikimedia leadership. Another Wikipedia contributor, Andreas Kolbe, wrote on the platform’s own news site that the creation of a successful search engine would transform volunteers into “unpaid hamsters.”
The true intent of Wikimedia Discovery is likely to become known in the coming months as the platform is researched and developed. The Knight Foundation grant provided the shot in the arm needed to launch the project, which will either aim to take at Google – or not.