Online encyclopedia Wikipedia is preparing to tackle Google’s dominance of internet search with the launch of a $3.5 million program to build a “Search Engine by Wikipedia”.
Wikipedia’s parent organisation, the Wikimedia Foundation, had in September been awarded a $US250,000 ($A350,000) grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, but only publicised the grant in the past week.
The grant is to be used “To advance new models for finding information by supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia”, the Knight Foundation’s grant letter to the Wikimedia Foundation read.
Wikimedia’s grant application says 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”.
Reports from digital analytics company comScore put Google’s market share at about 67 per cent, with Microsoft’s Bing in second place at about 20 per cent and Yahoo third with about 10 per cent.
The grant application says the Knowledge Engine will respond by emphasising six key areas:
• Publication curation mechanisms for quality
• Transparency, telling users exactly how the information originated
• Open data access to metadata, giving users the exact data source of the information
• Protected user privacy, with their searching protected by strict privacy controls
• No advertising, which assures the free flow of information and a complete separation from commercial interests
• Internalisation, which emphasises community building and the sharing of information
Wikimedia claims the Knowledge Engine will be “the internet’s first transparent search engine”.
A post on the Knight Foundation’s website says funding “will support an investigation of search and browsing on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, with the goal of improving how people explore and acquire information.
“Through this project, the Wikimedia Foundation will test ways to make relevant information more accessible and investigate transparent methods for collecting, connecting and retrieving this information consistent with the values of Wikipedia and the open Web,” the foundation says.
Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects will serve as testing grounds for “six months of deep research, testing, and prototyping on user search habits and practices”.
Results will be shared and discussed publicly, the foundation says.
A budget submitted by the Wikimedia Foundation and included in the grant announcement gave a total of $US2,445,873 ($A3,421,672), divided among 14 staff, hardware, and associated costs including travel and medical expenses.
The budget detailed eight engineers including programmers, two data analysts and four team leaders including a director and a vice president.
According to Wikimedia documents submitted with the grant application, the biggest risk is that Google or Yahoo “could suddenly devote resources to a similar project, which could reduce the success of the project”.
Wikipedia’s second attempt a search engine surprises volunteers
Wikipedia has tried building a search engine before, but founder Jimmy Wales abandoned the Wikia Search project in 2009, saying it had “not been enjoying the kind of success that we had hoped”.
He said at the time he cared deeply about search.
“I will return again and again in my career to search, either as an investor, a contributor, a donor, or a cheerleader,” he wrote in a blog post.
Wikia Search had showcased short articles written by people on topics, in direct contrast to the traditional search engine approach of matching key words, subjects and the popularity of web pages to find the most relevant result.
Andreas Kolbe, who wrote a story on the Knowledge Engine for the Wikipedia Signpost, a weekly online newspaper, said the details of the grant came as a surprise to volunteers within the Wikipedia community.
“Its gung-ho ‘We’re building a search engine!’ content is a bit of a bombshell for the volunteer community,” he told technology news website The Register.
“They were led to believe it was just about getting a central search function to find stuff spread out across the various Wikimedia sites, with OpenStreetMap thrown in perhaps.
“Volunteers feel WMF management has purposely kept them out of the loop.”