Proposal:Wikipedia is a Web search engine

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Every proposal should be tied to one of the strategic priorities below.

Edit this page to help identify the priorities related to this proposal!

  1. Achieve continued growth in readership
  2. Focus on quality content
  3. Increase Participation
  4. Stabilize and improve the infrastructure
  5. Encourage Innovation


Wikipedia was once an encyclopedia - a collection of articles which contained useful information. Like paper encyclopedias, it was not sourced very precisely, if at all, and reading it involved a considerable degree of trust in the editors.

Today this is no longer true. Good articles consist of facts which are sourced, sentence by sentence with inline citations. A large fraction of these sources can be pursued immediately on the Web, though paper sources are still quite important. The result is that Wikipedia is no longer so much an encyclopedia as a really good search engine, which allows readers to find the aspect of a topic they are interested in and pursue it to the original sources.

The practical aspect to this is that Wikipedia should recognize its new role, and needs to work carefully for the most productive integration into an overall search strategy. It can relate to private companies either as a competitor -- such as by comparison to Knol -- or as a collaborator -- such as by the common occurrence of Wikipedia articles as top hits in Google searches. Because Wikipedia content is free, the project can help these companies satisfy their users' desire for information -- but if too many extraneous issues hinder article development, we may find that these companies are more than happy to take the lead themselves.


  1. Wikipedia should "market" itself as a search engine in response to academic critics. Perhaps driven by student papers which cite a Wikipedia article name as a "reference"[1] many schoolteachers and professors have given their students the impression that using Wikipedia is bad research. But if a Wikipedia search leaves the student holding a peer-reviewed publication or a high quality review (and hopefully one which is open access), that is no longer a basis for criticism. Wikipedia can be presented as one more tool added to PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science to help students break through the cloud of irrelevant papers to arrive at specific concepts, keywords, and author names.
  2. Wikipedia needs to be steadfast in fighting censorship - especially when that censorship is not shared by what I view as its commercial competitors/collaborators. Controversies such as w:AACS encryption key controversy and w:Talk:Rorschach test/disclosure hindered Wikipedia development while Google cheerfully served up search results containing the 'controversial' data. If Wikipedia presents itself as a forum where people carefully ponder the net social impact or the impact on children for each new piece of information, then generate articles with gaping deficiencies, it will lose.
  3. Wikipedia needs to explore some of the boundaries of WP:NOT, and start asking "Why not?" While many of the restrictions are logical enough, pushing content over to Wikisource, Wiktionary, Wikibooks, and so on, there are certain features - such as collections of external links, directories, opinion forums, personal web pages, memorials, and so on - which are not offered by any Wikiproject. Some of these (external link collections and directories) are potentially quite useful, particularly when competing/collaborating with Web search engines. Others may be a nuisance, but if so they should be a nuisance that might be partnered productively with outside companies and supported by advertising. Google never seems to stop looking for new worlds to conquer, and neither should Wikipedia.
  4. Wikipedia needs to keep growing. Some people may say that a million articles, or three million, is all that people need, or that 120 kilobytes is all that really needs to be said about a topic, or that some information is just too obscure. We need to put such thinking far from mind. Personal computers are now being sold with terabytes of memory. Wikipedia has become the flagship of publicly accessible information, and there are many thousands of specialized fields or subcultures with many thousands of unique ideas. We should fully expect that one day, not so far off, there will be as many informative, unique Wikipedia articles as there are people on Earth - by then, perhaps ten billion Wikipedia articles. After all, on average, doesn't everyone do at least one notable thing?



Key Questions

  1. Should WMF create a place for directories and collections of external links?
  2. Should WMF seek a partnership to integrate social networking functions, perhaps funded by advertising?
  3. Should Wikipedia describe itself in part as a search engine?

Potential Costs

This proposal is too indefinite to itemize costs well. Only the first of the questions above should involve any net expenditure, which would be proportional to the overall memory share of the content deleted under policies to be changed.


Proposal [1] points out the competition, but is not yet well developed.

Proposal [2] makes a comparison with Google, but on a fairly technical point. Only the most popular articles are edited so actively that frequent edit conflicts become an issue, though the problem should worsen in future years.

[other references pending]


  1. A specific oldid from the article history could potentially be a true reference, if a qualified person reviews and certifies it from beginning to end.

Community Discussion

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