It appears that Wikipedia could be building its own search engine, despite denials from site founder Jimmy Wales. Documents have emerged that suggest that Wikipedia has invested $2.5 million into the Knowledge Engine project, which is described as “a system for discovering reliable and trustworthy information on the Internet,” according to The Register.
The concept was unearthed by Andreas Kolbe – who is on the board of Wikipedia’s Signpost – following the exit of James Heliman from the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) Board of Trustees. Heliman left the WMF over a lack of transparency of its Knowledge Engine project, which was part-funded by a $250k grant from the Knight Foundation.
A few days ago, Wales denied that the WMF was working on a search engine, writing on his Wiki user account:
“You wrote “The notion that WMF could get into searching is ambitious and interesting, and it also needs a lot of skepticism. A lot of people want to be Google and aren’t.” Both of those things are true in a sense, but they are also not relevant to this situation. To make this very clear: no one in top positions has proposed or is proposing that WMF should get into the general “searching” or to try to “be google”. It’s an interesting hypothetical which has not been part of any serious strategy proposal, nor even discussed at the board level, nor proposed to the board by staff, nor a part of any grant, etc. It’s a total lie.”
Kolbe, however, claims that the documents on the Knowledge Engine that he has presented proves otherwise. “Its gung-ho ‘We’re building a search engine!’ content is a bit of a bombshell for the volunteer community,” Kolbe said. “They were led to believe it was just about getting a central search function to find stuff spread out across the various Wikimedia sites, with OpenStreetMap thrown in perhaps […] Volunteers feel WMF management has purposely kept them out of the loop.”