Why Google Needs to Buy Wikipedia

Because Google Maps is not very good. At the real world. And while Google is trying to fix that by allowing map editing, I don't sense Google will be very good at fostering and nurturing the kind of communities that will allow Maps to self correct. Put another way,…


Because Google Maps is not very good. At the real world. And while Google is trying to fix that by allowing map editing, I don’t sense Google will be very good at fostering and nurturing the kind of communities that will allow Maps to self correct.

Put another way, because Google is not very good at communities that self-correct into reasonable quality, and if it’s going to realize the vision it might (of turning the entire world into, well usable data) it’s going to have to get a lot better, a lot faster.

(I know, you thought I was going to say because Knol ain’t so great, or because Wikipedia is still one of biggest recipients of Google’s second click….that’s also true)….

Allow me to explain. In the next post. I promise…

Author: John Battelle

A founder of NewCo (current CEO), sovrn (Chair), Federated Media, Web 2 Summit, The Industry Standard, Wired. Author, investor, board member (Acxiom, Sovrn, NewCo), bike rider, yoga practitioner.

16 thoughts on “Why Google Needs to Buy Wikipedia”

  1. Wikipedia, does a great job of getting old content out. The fact that the community does such an excellent job at updating, editing and deleting content would make it an excellent addition to Google maps. In the HTML world it’s easy to find content, and aggregate it, where it becomes difficult is finding a way to automate the updating and deleting of “offline” content. I am not sure if the Wikipedia community is energized to tackle the editing of something as germane as business listings? Interesting Idea, I look forward to reading more.

  2. Alas, and I’m sure John knows this already, Wikipedia is the one thing they can’t buy. Not only is it a not-for-profit entity, but the Wikipedia community would riot if some legal workaround were tried.

    But I’ve got some hope that Google will figure it out anyhow. Google’s very good at channeling their inner nerd into useful products. Wikipedia is an authentically nerdy movement. The problem for Google is that Wikipedia gets a lot of its power from the community, and once formed communities are very hard to control. Marissa doesn’t strike me as somebody who like backtalk, and a community would give a lot of that.

  3. (when knol fails to break gravity) they will buy or otherwise absorb wikipedia. and add adsense. finally the unjustifiably high PR of wikipedia pages will make sense.

  4. Then they will buy the Red Cross, Germany, and the color blue.

    As William says, Wikipedia is a non-profit foundation, which incidentally licenses everything under GFDL. It’s really not for sale. Please don’t stoke these weird ideas with people! 😛 They could certainly fork wikipedia though, that would cause some chaos.

  5. As William points out, Google can’t buy wikipedia, just as they can’t buy Mozilla.

    Besides which, buying Wikipedia wouldn’t solve their failures at self correcting communities.

    Wikipedia works because of a combination of factors, including being free (in all sense), having a critical mass of users, having motivated users (contributing to the world’s biggest encylopedia is an easy sell), and having content that lends itself to mass editing and refining.

    Wikipedia itself has no fundamental system Google can’t just take (all the software is free in any case), and buying it for the users wouldn’t do much aside from making Wikipedia’s editors visit a google server to edit Wikipedia’s information rather than wikipedia’s server. The users wouldn’t suddenly start editing all Google’s own user generated content.

  6. Not sure if Wikipedia’s success and Google Map’s failure in getting user participation to self-correct can be entirely attributed to community management ability. In other words, Wikipedia team may not do a better job if given the Google Map product. There are probably factors that are outside of the management team’s control and intention.

  7. Good point ML — I would note that the “wisdom of the language” may also be a quite significant factor. The other day I also wrote an “update” on the “State of the Internet” ;D — see: “Trust Won, Trust Lost :: The End of Web 2.0 (From Vision to Reality)” http://gaggle.info/miscellaneous/articles/trust-won-trust-lost-the-end-of-web-20-from-vision-to-reality (in this article, I cite an example of a search [using Google.COM] for “cheap flights” [minus quotes]; after writing the article I was actually surprised to find that 4 of the top 10 results on this search string already follow the principle of the “wisdom of the language” [your mileage may vary])

    BTW: The wiki “meme” spread during a point in time when there was still a strong orientation to media protected by “Intellectual Property” trademarking / branding (even though John Perry Barlow had already eloquently argued many years beforehand how the “protection of ideas” is an outdated phenomenon).

    Language, I believe, is not “owned”. I feel it is like a virus that can infect the mind of its host, but it is actually a phenomenon that is separate from its host (note that this seems to contradict Noam Chomsky’s view that language is a part of the human organism; but perhaps the human organism simply has particular properties that are well suited to “host” language). In any case, whether “wiki” or “waki” becomes a meme is not simply “up to” Google (sorry, Sergey 😉 — and similar “push media” initiatives (such as Apple ads or brouhaha over Knol) are also becoming less and less effective day by day.

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever relied on Google maps because they have gotten me lost countless times. I’ve had the best luck with my Magellan GPS, although sometimes it decides to take the long way (not really sure why). I wouldn’t put it past Google to try and work out a buy on Wikipedia, even though it’s a non-profit org. Google likes to get into a little bit of everything, I guess that’s why they’re extremely successful as a company.

  9. Very unlikely for two main reasons:

    * As noted above, Wikipedia isn’t for sale and the community would bail in an instant if Google did somehow get its mitts on the site
    * Google Maps works just fine 90% of the time

    Err, that’s it really.

  10. John,
    Exasperating the problem is a combination of factors, including: 1) the constraints of the general purpose user experience; 2) Google’s “coldness” when it comes to community experience; and 3) the lack of integration with mobile apps.

    If you were to create a user experience specifically designed to foster community and participation, it would be as far from the Google interface as we are to pluto. Google’s brand and tone also feels very uni-directional, not conversational. While it’s easy to create personal maps, and “share them”, it’s against the grain of “why we go to Google” – we go there because “they” have the answer, not to provide answers or exchange with other users. Google’s brand is the guru on the mountain, and this app needs the spreading tree. Third, the rise of content contribution and conversation will begin on scale with Mobile, and to date, this feels disconnected and disjointed.

    Some of these are capable of fixes, some feel like very deep ruts in a road that are damn difficult to shake.

  11. Simple RSS support is not the real issue here. The real issue is how paid registration is handled. I find, increasingly, that sites which wall themselves off are becoming irrelevant. Not because the writing or analysis is necessarily flawed (though honestly, I don’t trust journalists who eschew the blogosphere), but rather because their business model is. In today’s ecosystem of news, the greatest sin is to cut oneself off from the conversation. Both the Economist and the Journal have done that.

    So what is to be done? My suggestion is simple: Take the plunge and allow deep linking. Notice I did not say abandon paid registration, in fact, I support it. Publishers can let the bloggers link to any story they post, but limit further consumption of their site to paid subscribers.

    I’d be willing to wager that the benefit of allowing the blogosphere to link to you will more than make up for potential lost subscribers. First off, if you as a publisher do not offer additional paid subscription benefits beyond the articles themselves, you’re not paying attention to your community. And in any case, many folks will pay to subscribe to a site which is continually being linked to. In fact, I’d wager that the landing pages from blog links might be the most lucrative place a publisher can capture new subscribers. It’s a massive opportunity to convert: the reader has come to your site on the recommendation of a trusted source (the blog he or she is reading). It’s pretty certain that if you make that page inviting, and use it as an opportunity to sell the reader on the value of the rest of your site, that that reader will eventually feel like the Journal is worthy of his or her support.

  12. There already exists a community that has thousands of members putting together a highly accurate map based on GPS data acquired by the user. Check out http://openstreetmap.org/, where there are 50,000+ registered users (a large majority are still active almost every day). All of the data on their website has been hand-drawn or imported from public domain data (TIGER/Line data, for example). In the UK, all of the data was drawn by hand using user-collected GPS points.

  13. If Google bought Wikipedia, they would want to put ads on it, or otherwise it would be a useless purchase because they wouldn’t make money with it. Wikipedia is totally funded by donors. Wikipedia is not for sale, anyways. They already have Knol, and that might or might not take over Wikipedia according to this knol: (http://knol.google.com/k/nicole-williams/comparing-google-knol-and-wikipedia/2syhui1zwwxai/4#) I kind of think that in the future, Knol will become more popular because writers will be more likely to write there because of the reasons stated in the knol.

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