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Wikimedia head resigns after leak exposed search engine plans

Wikimedia head resigns after leak exposed search engine plans

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Asa Mathat / Recode

The executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation — the group that maintains Wikipedia — has resigned, shortly after leaked documents suggested the nonprofit organization was quietly building a "transparent" search engine to compete with Google. Lila Tretikov's resignation was announced in a letter to Wikimedia's board of trustees, Motherboard says, and comes after a number of Wikipedia editors, community members, and Wikimedia employees called on her to step down.

Wikimedia tried to justify the documents in a blog post

The documents appeared to show that Wikimedia sought $250,000 to develop "the Knowledge Engine," a project it said would result in "the internet's first transparent search engine," that was "completely free of commercial interest." News of the secret project rankled with many of Wikipedia's contributors, who would normally be consulted before the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation embarked on something so big, but the nonprofit group denied that it ever intended to make a search engine. "We're not building a global crawler search engine," Tretikov and vice president of product Wes Morgan wrote in a blog post, apparently counter to the documents widely seen. "We're not building another, separate Wikimedia project. We're committed to our mission of helping the world access and interact with free knowledge."

Community members reacted skeptically to the post, pointing out that the project was kept off the Foundation's publicly available annual plan, and suggesting that it simply scaled back its ambitions after being caught out. Tretikov's resignation is likely to appease Wikipedia's army of unpaid editors, but leaves a hole at the top of the organization, with founder Jimmy Wales still in an advisory role. In the meantime, Tretikov says she'll help find a successor, but she'll also have time to consider the irony of losing her job for keeping a project focused on transparency a secret.