Wikipedia Working on a Search Engine to Compete With Google

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Wikipedia Working on a Search Engine to Compete With Google

Wikipedia recently received a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation for the first year of work on the “Knowledge Engine” project. According to the formal agreement between Wikipedia’s parent company Wikimedia, and the Knight Foundation — the purpose of the project is to build a search engine that can oppose Google.

Initially, the grant was awarded in September 2015, but details were only made public this week. The total budget of the project to build what’s being called “the world’s first transparent search engine” is estimated at $2.5 million; though only a fraction of that has been received to date.

The document lays out further rationale behind the project, stating the Knowledge Engine project is needed as a way to respond to online trends. In Wikipedia’s case, this includes more searchers shifting to mobile, a drop in page views, and information pulled from Wikipedia being displayed directly in Google search results.

Also contained in the formal agreement is text explaining the company’s desires to democratize search, and create a search engine that doesn’t serve commercial interests.

“The project will pave the way for non-commercial information to be found and utilized by internet users… 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.”

The Knowledge Engine will work by searching through material contained on Wikipedia, and its sister free knowledge sites. Wikipedia believes, according to documents submitted with its grant application, that the only thing holding this project back from being successful is the possibility Google “could suddenly devote resources to a similar project.”

This is not Wikipedia’s first attempt at building a search engine. There was the Wikia Search project of 2009, which was abandoned after not attracting enough interested users. When the project failed, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales stated he would one day return to search. Seven years it looks like he’s willing to take on the challenge once more.

Featured Image Credit: GongTo /

Matt Southern
Matt Southern has been the lead news writer at Search Engine Journal since 2013. His passion for helping people in all aspects of online marketing... Read Full Bio
Matt Southern
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  • nihiltres

    Based on the information out there, it’s unlikely that Wikipedia will do anything whatsoever with web search in general, and they’ve specifically denied planning anything involving web search.

    The need that kickstarted this was probably the limitations of Wikipedia’s internal search engine. While MediaWiki’s implementation of CirrusSearch isn’t half bad (including MediaWiki-specific features and even regex search), it’s miles behind Google et al. The huge volume of Google searches used specifically to search Wikipedia (“[subject name] wikipedia”) are a clear signal that Wikipedia’s internal search could be far better. What’s the use of “the sum of human knowledge” if you can’t find the specific fact(s) you seek?

    The next step in that line of thinking is to bring in the other Wikimedia projects besides Wikipedia: media from Wikimedia Commons or semantic data from Wikidata are some of the most obvious things to try to integrate. In particular, many of the other projects lack Wikipedia’s visibility, and surfacing them in search could be valuable.

    It does sound like the project has in mind pulling results from outside the Wikimedia projects as well, targeting specific open datasets from similar-minded organizations like OpenStreetMap … or perhaps that’s just something that’ll be handled through Wikidata, since integrating open data is basically its raison d’être.

    The question is really how far it’ll go, since the initial secrecy over the project, and the lack of consultation with Wikimedia’s community of volunteers, makes it needlessly controversial at a time when community trust in the goals of the Foundation’s at a low. Besides, Wikimedia’s strength has always been in human-curated content, and search is the realm of the automatic. Internally, some other projects (e.g. structured data for image and media files on Wikimedia Commons, in particular for licensing information) are more consistently requested.

  • SneHa

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