The Wikimedia Foundation is getting back into search with a Knowledge Engine project that could turn Wikipedia.org into something more like a search engine than an online encyclopedia.
As The Register reports, the Knight Foundation has approved a $250,000 grant to the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that runs Wikipedia (and other wikis). The grant was approved last September and describes the project:
“The grant is to be used as follows: To advance new models for finding information by supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.”
“We Are Not Building Google”
Despite the reference there to “public information on the Internet,” it’s not clear if Wikipedia is planning a general search engine. A Knight Foundation news release from last month describes the project as “an investigation of search and browsing on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects.” That’s backed by a MediaWiki page about the Knowledge Engine that specifically claims, “We are not building Google.”
But farther down that same page, the door is opened to searching and displaying other web content, such as maps from OpenStreetMap and “other data sets that we could potentially surface” in search results. “The goal is to expand the amount of knowledge and expand the context beyond just textual search. We want to begin by showcasing content from other wiki projects including appropriate languages based on query input.”
(Note: That MediaWiki page also indicates that the foundation is no longer using “Knowledge Engine” to describe this project. We’ll use it here until there’s a known replacement name.)
Aiming To Reduce Reliance On Traditional Search Engine
The Wikimedia Foundation may not be trying to build another Google, but the goal of the Knowledge Engine could still have an impact on Google, Bing and traditional search engines. It’s no secret that Wikipedia.org content — and content from other Wikimedia Foundation wikis — often ranks highly in traditional search engines. But once users find content on Wikipedia.org, they often go back to their favorite search engines to find more content, even though they’re already on Wikipedia. The Knowledge Engine aims to change that behavior.
What we are trying to focus on is providing a search experience that doesn’t look like this:
1. Search on Google, Bing, etc.
2. Follow Wikipedia Link
4. Leave and search Google, Bing, etc. again because you are specifically looking for a Wikipedia article but couldn’t find it using CirrusSearch
[Ed note: CirrusSearch is the name of Wikipedia’s search infrastructure.]
So, while the Wikimedia Foundation may not be building a general web search engine, turning Wikipedia itself into a search engine that reduces reliance on traditional search engines could have a negative impact on Google and Bing. According to Wikipedia’s own data, the site gets more than 200 million search referrals per day.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales tried getting into search years ago with the launch of Wikia Search in 2008, but that service shut down just 14 months later.
Postscript: For more information, see our follow-up story a day after this was published: Wikimedia Foundation: “We’re Not Building A Global Crawler Search Engine”.