On Thu, May 5, 2016 at 5:00 AM, MZMcBride <z...@mzmcbride.com> wrote:

> I used the phrase "run amok" based on comments at
> <https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Engine/FAQ>. Specifically,
> Brion Vibber writes:
> "Former VP of Engineering Damon Sicore, who as far as I know conceived the
> 'knowledge engine', shopped the idea around in secret (to the point of
> GPG-encrypting emails about it) with the idea that Google/etc form an
> 'existential threat' to Wikipedia in the long term by co-opting our
> traffic, potentially reducing the inflow of new contributors via the
> 'reader -> editor' pipeline. [...]"
> Jimmy Wales replies:
> "It is important, most likely, that people know that Damon's secrecy was
> not something that was known to me or the rest of the board. I've only
> yesterday been sent, by a longtime member of staff who prefers to remain
> anonymous, the document that Damon was passing around GPG-encrypted with
> strict orders to keep it top secret. Apparently, he (and he alone, as far
> as I can tell) really was advocating for taking a run at Google. [...]"

I find it interesting to compare Damon's purported concerns with those
voiced by Jimmy Wales in his October emails to James Heilman, as made
available to the Signpost:


There we read that Wales said:

Right now the page at www.wikipedia.org is pretty useless. There's no
question it could be improved. Is your concern that if we improve it and it
starts to look like a "search engine" in the first definition this could
cause us problems?

Are you concerned that in due course we might expand beyond just internal
search (across all our properties)?

Right now when I type "Queen Elizabeth II" I am taken to the article about
her. I'm not told about any other resources we may have about her.

If I type a search term for which there is no Wikipedia entry, I'm taken to
our wikipedia search results page – which is pretty bad.

Here's an example: search for 'how old is tom cruise?'

It returns 10 different articles, none of which are Tom Cruise!

When I search in Google – I'm just told the answer to the question. Google
got this answer from us, I'm quite sure.

So, yes, this would include Google graph type of functionality. Why is that
alarming to you?


I don't agree that there's a serious gulf between what we have been told
and what funders are being told.


Imagine if we could handle a wide range of questions that are easy enough
to do by using wikidata / data embedded in templates / textual analysis.

"How old is Tom Cruise?"

"Is Tom Cruise married?"

"How many children does Tom Cruise have?"

The reason this is relevant is that we are falling behind what users
expect. 5 years ago, questions like that simple returned Wikipedia as the
first result at Google. Now, Google just tells the answer and the users
don't come to us.
<end of quote>

When told that there clearly had been an attempt to fund a massive project
to build a search engine that was then "scoped down to a $250k exploration
for a fully developed plan", Wales replied:

In my opinion: There was and there is and there will be. I strongly support
the effort, and I'm writing up a public blog post on that topic today. Our
entire fundraising future is at stake.
<end of quote>

Wales's concerns don't sound all that different from Sicore's to me.

Both seem to have perceived developments at Google as an existential
threat, because users get their answers there without having to navigate to
Wikipedia or Wikidata (which are among the sources from which Google takes
its answers).

Nor do I think these concerns are entirely unfounded. By opting for a CC
licence allowing full commercial re-use, years ago, Wikipedia set itself up
to be cannibalised in precisely that way.

For better or worse, it relinquished all control over how and by whom its
knowledge would be presented. It should hardly come as a surprise that
commercial operators then step up to exploit that vacuum, set up commercial
operations based on Wikimedia content, and eventually draw users away.

Moreover, the current search function does suck. Anyone looking for a
picture on Commons for example is better off using Google than the internal
search function.

What I don't understand is why all the secrecy and double-talk was

> These same individuals posted to this mailing list:
> https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2016-February/082150.html
> https://lists.wikimedia.org/pipermail/wikimedia-l/2016-March/083163.html
> This reported secrecy and cloak-and-dagger behavior is what I'm referring
> to when I say Damon ran amok. I suppose we can leave it as an exercise to
> the reader whether "run amok" is accurate phrasing given the evidence
> presented. Upon reading the previous comments that Damon, not Lila, was
> responsible for the secrecy, I'm perplexed by your recent comment
> regarding "Lila's decision." What am I missing?

Damon left in July 2015. Secrecy around the Knowledge Engine project and
the Knight grant lasted until February 2016. Perhaps this no longer
involved GPG encryption, but as late as 29 January 2016 Lila still led the
community to believe that "donor privacy" issues were the reason why the
board didn't publish the Knight Foundation grant agreement:


Yet the donor was in favour of full transparency ...
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