Wikipedia Takes on Google With New 'Transparent' Search Engine

Wikipedia search engine wikimedia discovery google
Online encyclopedia Wikipedia has announced plans for an ad-free Internet search engine that prioritizes user privacy and transparency. Yves Herman/ Reuters

Online encyclopedia Wikipedia has launched a $2.5 million program to build “the Internet’s first transparent search engine.”

Wikimedia Discovery, originally known as the Knowledge Engine, is being developed initially through funds granted to Wikipedia’s parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation, and takes direct aim at major search engines like Google.

Wikimedia’s application for a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation states: “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.”

The new search engine does not aim to immediately replace Google as a general purpose search engine, according to the foundation, as it will only draw on information from Wikipedia and its other free knowledge projects. Eventually, it is hoped that other sources of open knowledge could be incorporated, such as the U.S. Census Bureau.

Wikimedia Discovery aims to provide a “system for discovering reliable and trustworthy public information on the Internet.” The grant highlights critical features to help achieve this, including no advertising, protected user privacy, and open data access to metadata that would give users the exact data source of their information.  

In approving the grant, Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen said in a letter to Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Lila Tretikov: “The grant is to be used...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.”

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales previously attempted to build a search engine in 2009. The Wikia project was eventually abandoned due to a lack of success.

In a blogpost at the time, Wales said: “I will return again and again in my career to search, either as an investor, a contributor, a donor, or a cheerleader.”

Correction | The article originally stated that Wikipedia initiated Wikia. Wikia is independent from Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation. 

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