Exploring how people discover knowledge on Wikipedia and its sister projects

technology / Article

January 6, 2016 by Wes Moran


Today Knight Foundation is announcing $250,000 in new support for the Wikimedia Foundation, to improve public access to information. Below, Wes Moran, vice president of product at Wikimedia, writes about the project.  

Wikimedia projects contain a vast amount of knowledge: 35 million articles on Wikipedia, 30 million images on Wikimedia Commons, and terabytes of freely licensed material on Wikisource, Wikispecies and other projects. It would take more than 21 years for a normal person to read all of English Wikipedia alone—and that’s with no breaks or sleep.

Helping people navigate this information is core to what we do at the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that supports Wikipedia and its sister projects. Every month, nearly half a billion people look to these resources for relevant, reliable information. They might need a quick answer (What’s the diameter of the sun?) or an understanding of more complex ideas (How does cellular respiration work?). But our work is far from done.

We’re committed to making free knowledge available and engaging for as many people as possible. We also recognize that the search experience on Wikimedia projects is ripe for improvement. We need better ways to help people discover the most relevant, reliable information on Wikipedia and its sister projects.

For example, while people can search within one project (such as Wikipedia or Wikimedia Commons), they can’t easily search across the different projects. Some people still receive zero results if they do not include the right words in a search. There are open data sources that have the potential to improve how people find information, and they should be explored.

With support from Knight Foundation, we’re kicking off exploratory research and prototyping to improve how people find and engage with knowledge on Wikimedia projects. Knight’s support will fund six months of investigation around search and browsing on the projects, with the ultimate goal of building better experiences to help people discover knowledge. This exploratory project will include deep research, analysis, and prototyping to assess potential improvements in how people find information on Wikipedia and its sister projects. Specific activities include:

  • User testing and research on current user behavior to understand the search and discovery experience.
  • Creation and maintenance of a dashboard of core metrics to use in product development.
  • Research on search relevancy and the possibility of integrating open data sources.
  • Open discussion with the Wikimedia community of volunteer editors and technology experts.
  • Creation of prototypes to showcase discovery possibilities.

Knight Foundation is the perfect partner for this project. We share its belief in the power of information, and that informed and engaged communities are strong communities. That’s what Wikipedia is all about. It is written entirely by volunteers around the world who want to make knowledge freely available for the world. Every month, more than 75,000 people contribute to Wikipedia—which is constantly growing. Each hour, roughly 15,000 edits are made to Wikipedia. Every day, people create 7,000 new articles.

At the same time, the number of people who could access Wikipedia is growing. Over the last decade, the number of Internet users has grown to nearly 3 billion. A billion more people are expected to come online by 2017.

As the population of Internet users grows and Wikipedia continues to expand, it’s our commitment to give the world better ways of discovering knowledge. This brings us closer to our vision of a world where everyone has access to free knowledge.

For more information, visit the Wikimedia FAQ about this project.

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