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Is Wikipedia Building Its Own Search Engine?

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The search engine world is bigger than just Google. Bing has overseen some major improvements over the past several years, stealth competitors like DuckDuckGo are showing promising signs of growth, and other tech giants (including Apple and Facebook) have already stuck their toes in the water to test the limits of search engine development. Now, a new competitor may be entering the fray, and it’s a name we all recognize: Wikipedia.

Wikipedia

What’s Happening?

To be fair, Wikipedia’s actually considered making a search engine for a long time now. It’s only recently that it formally announced and detailed its plans. The official news came from the Wikimedia (the official owner of Wikipedia) detailing a sizable grant from the Knight Foundation. The document describes a vision for a new search engine, called the Knowledge Engine, which is intended to “democratize the discovery of media, news and information.” This search engine will attempt to create a more unbiased, publicized bank of searchable information on the web—one that’s “completely free of commercial interests.”

Knight Foundation

(Image Source: Wikimedia)

In summary, the Knowledge Engine will strive to be a transparent creation designed to increase the availability of knowledge to all Internet users.

Understandably, the SEO and broader online community were abuzz with speculation and anticipation about what such a development would entail. The language of the letter appears critical of search engines like Bing and Google, which have clearly dominated and dictated search engine technology trends, including being influenced by the needs of advertisers. Accordingly, people rallied Wikipedia as “taking on” Google with a contemporary competitor.

However, this appears not to be the case. Wikimedia has responded to these speculations, saying their goal is not to build yet another “global crawler search engine,” nor is their goal to create what is essentially another Wikipedia. Instead, this project will be distinct from either of these goals.

Why Wikipedia?

In the world of tech giants, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Wikipedia are usually the first to come to mind. Of these, Wikipedia has held two distinctions thus far; first, it’s the only organization in this group to have not developed its own search engine. Second, it’s the only organization that’s not for profit. Wikipedia, seeing no non-profit search engines and having a core mission to provide the world with more information, is driven to bring more transparency, fewer monopolies, and more thorough provision of information to web users. This is in line with its mission statement: “…to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally.”

Accordingly, there should be no mystery as to why Wikimedia is pursuing such a goal.

Why Now?

The Wikimedia community has talked about developing its own search engines for years, so the concept isn’t entirely new. The $250,000 grant is certainly helping to propel the idea forward, but there are a few other motivations for its timing:

  • Google’s antitrust issues. Over the past several years, Google has caught flak from Europe (and more recently the United States) over violating antitrust laws with its provision of search results. Identifying this as a major problem, Wikimedia could be simultaneously attempting to solve and take advantage of this for extra visibility.
  • The Google Knowledge Graph. Google’s provision of rich answers, direct answers above the fold of typical SERPs, has certainly encroached on Wikipedia’s territory. Obscuring Wikipedia entries and sometimes drawing information from the articles themselves, Wikipedia could be acting as a response to a perceived threat.
  • Shifting user demands. Online users are growing more accustomed to getting fast, concise answers to informational queries, often on mobile devices. This renders the old-style Wikipedia page somewhat less modern and relevant. Wikipedia could simply be trying to evolve in line with consumer demands.

How Could This Affect SEO?

Now let’s take a look at how this might affect your current SEO strategy, even though the release of the search engine is likely months or years away:

  • Decreased search share. If users can get better, more direct answers from the Knowledge Engine, they may choose to use it over Google, further eating away at Google’s search share. Your choices may be to either optimize for the Knowledge Engine as well (which will take more work) or suffer the decreased search visibility (which will decrease your revenue).
  • Increased visibility challenges. The Knowledge Engine will apparently use a “public curation of relevance,” which stands separate from keyword relevance, semantic search, and backlink profiles that traditional search engines use. This would make SEO extraordinarily difficult, if not entirely impossible, for for-profit businesses.
  • Advertising opportunities. Seeing that the Knowledge Engine won’t be operating for a profit, you can almost guarantee that there won’t be any new search advertising opportunities. Opportunities on Google and Bing may therefore decrease in cost due to lower search volume (or remain steady due to unchanged rates of competition).
  • Future developments. What’s most striking is how the Knowledge Engine may affect current and future search engines. Its revolutionary new approach and structure could influence Google, Bing, and dozens of new search competitors to push the limits of what can be accomplished in online search.

Personally, I’ll be interested to see how this new, publicly controlled, non-profit search engine develops. It’s striving to be a true game-changer, offering a system and a position that no other organization has attempted to date. It may fall flat, as Jimmy Wales’s for-profit project Wikia Search did back in 2004, it may skyrocket to popularity thanks to Wikipedia’s current user base, or it may fall somewhere in between.

Wikia Search

(Image Source: Wikipedia)

Either way, it will influence how future search projects develop from here on out.

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Timothy Carter

Timothy is AudienceBloom's Director of Business Development. He combines expertise in online marketing with a passion for helping others build a strategy for success. When not planning his next trip to Hawaii, he's writing at his personal site, OutrankLabs.com.

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