How is it possible that a mere search engine could be causing this much consternation? Well, Wikimedia has always thrived on its radical transparency: Its annual strategy plans and fiscal information is public, and Wikipedia has always maintained a comprehensive history of every edit on the website.But the Knowledge Engine has been shrouded in secrecy from the get-go. In fact, there's widespread disagreement about what the Knowledge Engine even is, because Wikimedia's public statements are at odds with leaked internal documents discussing the projects and with its grant application to the Knight Foundation.The concern from the Wikipedia community is that a Google-like search engine could represent a shift in the organization's focus from human-led curation and editing of articles to one driven by automated data lookup.
"I wonder if the foundation, a lot of whom have experience in Silicon Valley, is getting a little bored with just running an encyclopedia"
The specifics of the Knowledge Engine's design don't necessarily matter, the secrecy and changing story surrounding it does, according to Beutler and Liam Wyatt, a Wikipedia community manager in Europe who calls himself a "Wikiwatcher."
"Knowledge Engine By Wikipedia will democratize the discovery of media, news and information—it will make the Internet's most relevant information more accessible and openly curated, and it will create an open data engine that's completely free of commercial interests. Our new site will be the Internet's first transparent search engine, and the first one that carries the reputation of Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Foundation."
Beutler notes that five of the Wikimedia Foundation's board members have ties to Google, and that Lila Tretikov, who took over as executive director in 2014, made her career as a software engineer and executive in Silicon Valley. The Wikimedia Foundation did not respond to a Motherboard request for comment."I wonder if the foundation, a lot of whom have experience in Silicon Valley, is getting a little bored with just running an encyclopedia," Beutler said.Meanwhile, traffic to Wikipedia coming from Google has fallen as Google has begun incorporating fast facts from Wikipedia articles onto the front page of Google (search for a celebrity, for instance, and you'll find out how old they are without having to click through to Wikipedia). As long as that information is coming from Wikipedia, it can be looked at as a win for the encyclopedia's overall effort to expand public knowledge, but it does represent something of an existential threat to a website that is almost fully dependent on donations from users who actually visit it.
"It's a conspiracy theory to say that they're replacing the editing community with an algorithm, but it is the scale and trajectory"