Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Wikipedia finally asks big technologies to pay

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From the start, Google and Wikipedia have been in a sort of tacit partnership: Wikipedia produces the information Google provides in response to user queries, and Google is building Wikipedia’s reputation as a source of reliable information. Of course, there have been bumps, including those from Google daring attempt to replace Wikipedia with its own version of user-generated articles, under the awkward name of “Knol,” short for knowledge. Knol never got it, despite Google offering to pay the lead author of an article a share of the advertising money. But after that failure, Google embraced Wikipedia even more closely – not only linking to its articles, but reprinting key snippets on its search results pages to quickly deliver Wikipedia knowledge to those looking for answers.

The two have grown up in tandem over the past 20 years, each becoming their own word. But while one has grown into a trillion dollar company, the other has remained a mid-sized nonprofit, depending on the generosity of individual users, donor foundations and silicon giants. Valley themselves to stay afloat. Now Wikipedia is looking to rebalance 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 nursery sheet.

Today, the Wikimedia Foundation, which manages the Wikipedia project in over 300 languages ​​as well as other wiki projects, announces the launch of a commercial product, Wikimedia Enterprise. The new service is designed for the efficient sale and delivery of Wikipedia content directly to these online giants (and potentially small businesses as well).

Conversations between the foundation’s newly formed affiliate, Wikimedia LLC, and Big Tech companies are already underway, project contacts said in an interview, but the next few months will be spent researching the reaction of thousands of Wikipedia volunteers. Agreements with the firms could be concluded as early as June.

“This is the first time that the foundation recognizes that business users are users of our service,” says Lane Becker, senior director of the foundation, who accelerated the Enterprise project with a small team. “We knew they were there, but we never really treated them like a user base.”

For years now, Wikipedia has made a free bi-weekly snapshot of everything that appears on the site – a so-called “data dump” for users – as well as a “firehose” of all changes to the site. as they happen. in a different format. This is how large companies usually import Wikipedia content into their platforms, without special support from the foundation.

“They all have dedicated Wikipedia management teams – big ones,” Becker said, adding that getting different content to talk to each other required “a lot of low-level work – cleanup and management – which is very expensive. “

The free option, albeit awkward, will still be available to all users, including commercial users. This means that Wikimedia Enterprise’s main competitor, in the words of Lisa Seitz-Gruwell, the foundation’s revenue director, is Wikipedia itself.

But the formatting issues of the free version present a clear opportunity to create a product worth paying for, tailored to the needs of each business. For example, Enterprise will provide real-time changes and full data dumps in a compatible format. There will also be a level of customer service typical of commercial agreements but unprecedented for the volunteer-led project: a number to call for its customers, a guarantee of certain speeds for the delivery of the data, a team of experts in charge of solve specific technical flaws.

In another hiatus for a project like Wikipedia, which was conceived as part of the free software world, Enterprise will host its version of Wikipedia content not on the project’s own servers but on Amazon Web Services, which it says will host its version of Wikipedia content. will allow it to best meet the needs of its customers. In the explanatory documents, the foundation tries to justify the decision and stresses that “it is not contractually, technically or financially bound to use the AWS infrastructure”.

As these comments suggest, the Wikipedia movement, which proudly supported its early Internet idealism, is fighting to meet the needs of business giants with vastly different standards not only on free software, but also on transparency and “monetization.” . its users. However, foundation officials who run Project Enterprise argue that Wikipedia would be foolish to disengage from large corporations because they provide people with the primary means to read its articles.

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