Sam Whitney

the free encyclopedia finally asked a large IT business to pay for its services

There has long been a certain symbiosis between Google and Wikipedia: the open encyclopedia provided information that Google displayed in response to user queries, and the search giant built Wikipedia’s reputation as a source of reliable information. Large companies used the encyclopedia for free. But with the launch of Wikimedia Enterprise, that will change.

Sam Whitney | Getty Images

Sam Whitney | Getty Images

There were also problems in the relationship between Google and Wikipedia. For example, the search giant was about to create its own alternative under the awkward name Knol. However, when the initiative failed, Google began to use Wikipedia even more actively, not only displaying links to its articles, but also reprinting key excerpts on its search results pages.

Google has grown into a trillion dollar company over the past 20 years; Wikipedia has remained a non-profit organization dependent on the generosity of individual users, donors, and the Silicon Valley giants themselves to keep it afloat. Now Wikipedia is trying to rebalance somewhat its relationship with Google and other big tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Apple, whose platforms and virtual assistants rely on Wikipedia as a free virtual cheat sheet.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which manages the Wikipedia project in over 300 languages, as well as other wikis, has announced the launch of the commercial product Wikimedia Enterprise. The new service is intended to sell and efficiently deliver Wikipedia content directly to the mentioned online giants (and ultimately to smaller companies).

Negotiations with major tech companies are already underway, and the next couple of months will be devoted to assessing the reaction of thousands of Wikipedia volunteers. Agreements with firms can be reached as early as June.

The big issue

For many years, Wikipedia has been publishing in the public domain a record of everything that appears on the site every two weeks – the so-called “data dump” for its users – and also informs about all the changes that occur. This is how large companies usually import open encyclopedia data onto their platforms without the special help of the Wikimedia Foundation. And sometimes huge resources are spent on this: the data needs to be processed, brought into the format required by each platform, and so on.

The old free, albeit clumsy, version of Wikipedia will continue to be available to all users, including commercial ones. Wikimedia Enterprise will provide paid services such as providing commercial partners with all changes and access to the entire array of information in real time in a compatible and convenient format. The quality of customer service will also improve, which simply cannot be provided by a volunteer project: there will be a hotline, guaranteed speed of data provision, technical support, and so on. Wikimedia Enterprise will host its version of Wikipedia content not on the project’s own servers, but on Amazon Web Services, which will better meet the needs of large corporate clients. Wikimedia Enterprise will help commercial clients display the most recent and accurate version of articles, fight trolls more effectively, and eliminate shortcomings faster.

Wikimedia Enterprise is unlikely to become the main source of funding for Wikipedia in the foreseeable future, which reaches about $ 100 million per year. User donations and grants will continue to carry the bulk of the burden, but having a robust additional revenue stream from large companies will provide a steady stream of revenue for the ambitious new challenges of promoting open knowledge.

Large platforms control the flow of money and information on the Internet, so at first glance there is nothing wrong with Wikipedia receiving some of these funds. But this will have to pay off with addiction. An open encyclopedia will have to focus on the demands of the commercial Internet, even if it comes at the expense of developing a freer and stronger community. However, even today the leading large sponsors can impose their opinion on Wikipedia.

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