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Wikimedia will launch a paid service for big tech companies

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Wikipedia and its API will still be free

Logo of Wikipedia Photo by Altan Gocher / DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The Wikimedia Foundation is creating a new paid service for companies that draw on Wikipedia data. The foundation announced the news today via an article in Wired, and it’s planning to launch later in 2021. Wikimedia Enterprise, as it’s called, won’t change how current Wikipedia services work. Instead, it will offer new options for companies that use its content, a category including giants like Google and Facebook.

Wikimedia is still finalizing how Wikimedia Enterprise will operate. But broadly, it’s like a premium version of Wikipedia’s API — the tool that lets anybody scrape and re-host Wikipedia articles. Enterprise customers could get data delivered faster or formatted to meet their needs, for instance, or get new options for sorting and posting it. As Wikimedia Foundation senior director Lane Becker explains to Wired, companies may already be paying employees to clean up Wikipedia data, and Enterprise will do that kind of cleanup at the source. Or if they want, companies can keep using the existing API for free.

Many huge internet services are powered partly by Wikipedia. Google’s “knowledge boxes” incorporate information from the free encyclopedia, and so do voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. As web platforms attempt to fight misinformation, Wikipedia has also become a go-to fact-checking resource. But while some companies have offered donations in return for using Wikimedia’s free services, others have launched big Wikipedia-powered initiatives without even telling the foundation.

Wikimedia’s frequently asked questions page insists that Enterprise isn’t “forcing Big Tech to pay” for Wikipedia. But it could solve specific, well-known problems for those companies. One potential service would let companies display the most reliably community-vetted edits instead of the newest ones, preventing false or insulting vandalized articles from ending up on their own platforms.

In an essay, the Wikimedia Enterprise team acknowledges that it’s balancing commercial realities with a mission to provide free access to knowledge. “This is about setting up the movement to thrive for decades to come, to weather any storm, and to genuinely stand a chance at achieving the mission first conceived 20 years ago,” the essay says. “We’re going to need more resources, more partners, and more allies if we are going to achieve the goals implicit in our vision statement.” And starting later this year, that could include paid partnerships with the internet’s biggest companies.