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February Search Engine News


Googlepedia: The End is Near

By John C. Dvorak

Source: - PC Magazine(

There is a debate within the online community regarding the fate of the amazing Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that has grown into one of the largest free resources for information in the world. The comment appeared on what is called the Meta-Wiki, found here:

"Google Inc. has made a proposal to host some of the content of the Wikimedia projects. The terms of the offer are currently being discussed by the board. The developer committee has been informed of some of the details via e-mail. A private IRC meeting with Google is planned for March 2005. Please note that this agreement does not mean there is any requirement for us to include advertising on the site. See Wikimedia partners and hosts for details of other current and proposed hosting arrangements.

For those unfamiliar with Wikipedia, it's essentially a massive user-contributed information resource based on the concept of a "wiki," which is yet another cutesy name for an online public collaborative forum. Large knowledge bases can be developed quickly by utilizing these forums. The current model for this was invented by Ward Cunningham, who was recently hired away from his consultancy to work for Microsoft. He's now in the vague "Prescriptive Architecture Guidance Group."

I believe that his role will be to improve the rather mediocre natural-language capabilities currently used in the Microsoft (MSN) search engine. Right now Microsoft essentially looks up things in the dictionary when you ask, for example, "What is metal?" With more complex queries, it may go to its own Encarta encyclopedia and throw an answer back at you. It's hit and miss.

Google has been using Wikipedia to deliver appropriate results in a non-natural-language fashion, but would love to get hold of the entire database in-house so it would not have to continually spider the thing with its legions of Web crawlers. So the debate now begins. Should the Wikipedia folks get cozy with Google, a public company? The big fear seems to be the notion of letting the camel's head into the tent. Pretty soon the whole camel will be inside.

What has ensued, though, is a typical online debate, which you can visit here on the Wikimedia meta site. The results are as expected. There is every opinion from "what a great idea" to "the evil technocrats at Google will take over, kill us all, and eat our flesh."

Unfortunately, when you consistently look to be too generous, people get suspicious. You have to remember that this offer comes on the heels of the offer made to libraries by Google to digitize and host all the great books and documents in the world. Now this. Is Google trying to corner the all the world's information and then, once they have it all under their control, sell it back to us at a high fee?

Or, more interestingly, is it possible that the plan is to control all these resources and then stick it to Microsoft when its search-engine Web crawler comes around? ACCESS DENIED! There is no doubt in my mind that this is a distinct possibility. But can it be accomplished without making a mess?

Google still has to explain to the community what happened to Usenet. People still recall how DejaNews, one of the great resources of the Net, began as a large database of every Usenet post ever made in a massive archive. As the burden of maintaining this database increased, DejaNews changed its direction into a mediocre shopping engine and post database, and then Google took it over. At first the ability to search Usenet was on the Google home page. Then it disappeared, and now it's on a subpage that you have to dig for, and the search totally stinks.

Usenet has fallen out of favor and been largely marginalized over the past several years, as spammers helped ruin it. Google did little to halt the erosion, and what was once the powerful DejaNews is now the mostly useless Google "Search Groups." It's been kept in perpetual beta since being taken off the home page. This sort of collapse and sudden loss of interest does not bode well for Wikipedia ending up in bed with Google, or anyone else for that matter.

But let's say that Google is as honorable as it claims and has no intention of doing anything more than making life better for everyone. I know most of the principals there, and they are as normal and sincere as can be expected. Nice guys, actually. But Google itself is a public corporation. It's its own animal in that regard, with attorneys and bean-counters making the "nice guys" who run the place beholden to the mythical shareholders, who demand results and accountability. Maybe the nice guys do not want to create a situation that locks out the Microsoft crawlers. The needs of the corporate entity, though, demand it. Maybe the nice guys don't want to take over Wikipedia and clean it up, change the way it worksóruin itóas per the lawyers' demands. The corporation demands it. Those nice guys are not working for themselves any more. We always have to remember that. They are now guests.




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