Wikipedia, the world’s most popular free encyclopedia, is planning to charge big tech companies for publishing their information.
The online encyclopedia was created by Larry Sanger in 2001 to provide valuable global information free of charge. Wikipedia is run by volunteers of writers and editors around the world, and has been functioning on donations as a non-profit powered by Wikimedia Foundation.
Over the years, Wikipedia has grown to become a source of knowledge to the world. It is the 8th most visited site in the United States and 13th in the world, welcoming knowledge seekers, and offering detailed knowledge about the tech industry free of charge, but that is about change.
Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft have had their information published on Wikipedia’s site for years, now Wikimedia is creating a brand new division called Wikimedia Enterprise that will offer paid services to the biggest gainers of the free encyclopedia.
Wikimedia Enterprise is a new product from the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects. Wikimedia Enterprise provides paid developer tools and services that make it easier for companies and organizations to consume and re-use Wikimedia data.
We will be launching the product later in 2021. If you or your company is interested in learning more, sign up for updates below:
Wired reported that conversation is already underway between the tech behemoths and the new subsidiary, Wikimedia LCC. And the next couple of months will be about seeking the reaction of Wikipedia’s thousands of volunteers. Agreement could be reached as soon as June.
“This is the first time the foundation has recognized that commercial users are users of our service. We’ve known they are there, but we never really treated them as a user base,” said Lane Becker, a senior director at the foundation, who is overseeing the Enterprise project.
The move is in contrast to what Wikipedia has been known for in over two decades of its existence – a non-commercial source of knowledge funded by donations.
However, the twist has been instigated by the somewhat greedy Silicon Valley big guys, who take everything along their way to the top and give a little back. Wired noted the “data dump” as well as a “fire hose” snapshots that contain everything that appears on Wikipedia’s site every two weeks, which is made freely available for users.
The snapshots come in different formats and help big companies to import whatever they want from Wikipedia freely, with no special insider-help.
Becker said “they all have teams dedicated to Wikipedia management-big ones,” and “making the different content speak to each other required a lot of low-level work-cleaning and managing-which is very expensive.”
Over the years, Wikipedia has depended on donors, especially big tech companies to function. There has been a kind of partnership between the encyclopedia and Google.
“Wikipedia produces the information Google serves up in response to user queries and Google builds up Wikipedia’s reputation as a source of trustworthy information,” Wired report noted.
Google’s failure in its attempt to break away from Wikipedia with its own version of user-generated articles – Knowledge (Knol), cemented their relationship.
Although the relationship has endured and flourished for two decades now, Google has been the major beneficiary, scooping billions of dollars from ad revenues served through information and links provided by Wikipedia. Although besides ensuring that Wikipedia gets deserving credit for the contents it served and putting it on top of search results, Google, alongside other big companies, has been donating voluntarily to help the Wikimedia Foundation stay on course, but it’s not enough.
The free software, as an ideology, is still something the Wikimedia foundation holds dear.
“The free, albeit clunky option will still be available to all users, including commercial ones” Wired reported.
But the formatting problems with the free version offer an obvious opportunity to create a product worth paying for, one tailored to the requirements of each company. For instance, Enterprise will deliver the real-time changes and comprehensive data dumps in a compatible format, the report said.
It explained that there will also be a level of customer service typical of business arrangements but unprecedented for the volunteer-directed project; a number for its customers to call, a guarantee of certain speed for delivering the data, a team of experts assigned to solve specific technical flaws.
While the foundation waits to get response from its volunteers, concern is rising that the move will mean that the big companies will hence get preferential treatment. Although the foundation said the new development will not affect its free services, that it will be available to all users, even the commercial ones, it doesn’t dismiss the concern.
Also, the Foundation is planning to host the new project on Amazon Web Services as it would help them serve customers better.
The aim, according to the Enterprise is to help ensure that commercial operators display the latest, most accurate version of articles and crack down on vandalism quicker.
Seitz-Gruwell said “a contractual relationship will also more formally recognize that these companies are extracting value from a volunteer project, and therefore must contribute back to the commons.”
Wikipedia has a budget of around $1 million funded by donations, and the Enterprise said it does not plan to substitute user-donations with the revenue from the companies.