Wikipedia seeks to challenge Google’s dominance of internet search with $3.5m Knowledge Engine search project

Wikipedia’s parent organisation, the Wikimedia Foundation, has been granted a $250,000 ($3.5 million) grant by the John S and James L Knight Foundation to flag off the project to challenge Google’s power of internet search. The foundation finally confirmed the grant this week, which was awarded in September last year.

The grant for the new project – dubbed Knowledge Engine– is to be used “to advance new models for finding information by supporting stage one development of the Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia and explore ways to make the search and discovery of high-quality, trustworthy information on Wikipedia more accessible and open” 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.”

According to reports from digital analytics company comScore, Google’s holds the top position with about 67 percent, while Microsoft’s Bing is in second place at about 20 percent and Yahoo at third place with about 10 percent.

The grant application says the Knowledge Engine will counter by highlighting six key areas:

  1. Publication curation mechanisms for quality
  2. Transparency, notifying users correctly how the information originated
  3. Open data access to metadata, providing users the exact data source of the information
  4. Protected user privacy, with their searching secured by strict privacy controls
  5. No advertising, which guarantees the free flow of information and thorough split-up from commercial interests
  6. Internalisation, which gives emphasis to the sharing of information and community building
    Wikimedia claims the Knowledge Engine will be “the internet’s first transparent search engine”.

According to a post on the Knight Foundation’s website, it 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 functions as testing grounds for “six months of deep research, testing, and prototyping on user search habits and practices”.

The foundation says results will be shared and discussed in the public.

Wikimedia Foundation submitted a budget and included in the grant announcement provided a total of $US2,445,873 ($A3,421,672), which is divided among 14 staff, hardware, and associated costs that includes medical expenses and travel.

The comprehensive budget has eight engineers including programmers, two data analysts and four team leaders including a director and a vice president.

The biggest danger is that Google or Yahoo “could suddenly devote resources to a similar project, which could reduce the success of the project”, mentioned Wikimedia documents submitted with the grant application.

Volunteers surprised with Wikipedia’s second attempt at a search engine

In the past too, Wikipedia has tried building a search engine. However, in 2009, the founder Jimmy Wales deserted the Wikia Search project, saying it had “not been enjoying the kind of success that we had hoped”.

At that time, he had said that he was deeply concerned 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.

In direct contrast to the traditional search engine approach of matching key words, subjects and the reputation of web pages to search the most relevant result, Wikia Search had displayed short articles written by people on topics.

The information of the grant came as a surprise to volunteers within the Wikipedia community said Andreas Kolbe, who has written a story on the Knowledge Engine for the Wikipedia Signpost, a weekly online newspaper.

“Its gung-ho ‘We’re building a search engine!’ content is a bit of a bombshell for the volunteer community,” he told 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.”

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