Wikimedia Foundation: “We’re Not Building A Global Crawler Search Engine”

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The Wikimedia Foundation has clarified its search-related intentions today, saying it has no plans to build a search engine to crawl the web and compete with Google. Instead, as two foundation executives said in a blog post, the Knowledge Engine project is focused on improving search and discovery on Wikimedia projects. The foundation has secured a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to get the project going.

The blog post comes in response to numerous reports like this one from Newsweek with headlines saying the Knowledge Engine project is an attempt to challenge Google.

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Lila Tretikov and VP of Product Wes Moran wrote today that the project will have an internal focus.

We intend to research how Wikimedia users seek, find, and engage with content. This essential information will allow us to make critical improvements to discovery on the Wikimedia projects. And in keeping with our values, we will make our findings public, in order for the world to better understand the way we all engage with free, open knowledge.

What are we not doing? We’re not building a global crawler search engine. We’re not building another, separate Wikimedia project. We’re committed to our mission of helping the world access and interact with free knowledge.

Despite headlines, we are not trying to compete with other platforms, including Google.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales posted a similar message last week, saying, “There is nothing at all about the Knight grant which is in any way related to or suggestive of a google-like [sic] search engine.”

But the confusion comes from the way in which the Knowledge Engine was originally described in the grant agreement, which asks, “Would users go to Wikipedia if it were an open channel beyond an encyclopedia?” The agreement also uses wording that makes Knowledge Engine sound like a potential Google competitor:

“Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.”

“Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia will democratize the discovery of media, news and information – it will 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.”

That’s how the project was described last September in the grant agreement. In an email written Monday night, Tretikov says the Knight Foundation grant “allows us to pursue strictly… a better Wiki search.” She adds that the foundation has looked into adding other knowledge sources in the future but has “since decided against increasing the scope.”

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