Wikipedia may soon have its own search engine. Its parent company, Wikimedia Foundation was granted a sum of $250,000 (roughly Rs. 1.7 crores) late last year, an announcement which was only made available to the public this month. Dubbed Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia, the San Francisco-based non-profit organisation is building a search engine to provide “a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.” But for “the Internet’s first transparent search engine” to exist, it will have to hurdle through some roadblocks.
The Wikimedia Foundation was awarded $250,000 in November last year from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The search engine will allow users to discover material located on Wikipedia and its sister websites. The search engine is poised to rival Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft’s Bing, and other commercial search engines.
The Wikimedia Foundation insists that the Knowledge Engine will be open and transparent about how a piece of information originates and allow access to metadata. The Wikipedia’s search engine will also protect user privacy, stay away from advertisements, and give emphasis to the community building and sharing of information.
“Today, 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,” Wikimedia Foundation describes. “Knowledge Engine by Wikipedia will democratise 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.”
While that sounds good, the issue with the search engine is the level of secrecy Wikimedia Foundation has imposed on it. Volunteers who work hours on the project on a daily basis weren’t aware of the issue until the document was made available to the public. The issue is seeing the Wikipedia community and Wikimedia Foundation drift apart from each other.
“There’s been increasing alienation of the community from the foundation,” William Beutler, a long-time Wikipedia editor, journalist for The Wikipedian blog told Motherboard. “The community is this volunteer group that is made up of people who largely buy into Wikipedia for ideological reasons. Then you have the foundation, which has increasingly fewer people from the community and a larger Silicon Valley contingent that comes from a tech background. “[…] It seems like there’s been a culture clash,” he said. “And this is the most destructive manifestation of that culture clash.”
For a media institution that puts the transparency over everything, the way it has handled information about its upcoming search engine shows the other side of the Wikimedia Foundation. There’s no word on when we can expect the search engine to be ready.