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Google is paying the Wikimedia Foundation for better access to information

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Becoming one of the first Wikimedia Enterprise customers

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google is paying the Wikimedia Foundation to help serve up the most accurate and up-to-date information on its search engine. The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit group behind Wikipedia, says Google is one of the first companies to buy into its commercial Enterprise service.

Launched last year, Wikimedia Enterprise allows customers (like Google) who reuse massive chunks of information from Wikimedia’s services to access its content more efficiently. Instead of relying on free data dumps and publicly available APIs (application programming interfaces) to scrape information from Wikipedia’s web pages, Wikimedia Enterprise lets customers use APIs better suited to recycling and spitting out information on a much larger scale. The service also enables customers to retrieve updates for the content it uses, helping to prevent outdated or inaccurate information from appearing on the web outside of Wikipedia.

Although you may not notice it, Google uses Wikimedia’s services in a number of ways. The most obvious is within its “knowledge panels,” which appear on the side of search results pages when you look up the people, places, or things within Google’s massive database. Wikipedia is one of the sources Google frequently uses to populate the information inside these panels. Google also cites Wikipedia in the information panels it adds to some YouTube videos to fight misinformation and conspiracy theories (although it didn’t really inform Wikimedia of its plans to do so ahead of time).

It’s not exactly clear how Google’s new partnership will change the end-user side of things. Tim Palmer, the managing director of Google’s search partnerships, vaguely commented that Google looks forward to “deepening” its partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation through its Enterprise service. Lane Becker, Wikimedia Enterprise’s senior director of earned revenue told The Verge that the service is still in its “early days” and declined to comment on specific ways Google might use it.

I would imagine that Google users probably won’t notice a change at all — maybe we’ll see Wikipedia cited more often in knowledge panels or perhaps Google will come up with a new way to integrate Wikipedia’s information into its services. Google has made donations to the Wikimedia Foundation in the past, but this marks the first time it’s signing on as an actual customer.

Aside from Google, the Wikimedia Foundation announced that the Internet Archive has also become an Enterprise customer (although it isn’t paying for the service). That’s the same nonprofit that runs the Wayback Machine, a database that preserves snapshots from websites throughout time, letting you get a glimpse at deleted or changed information and explore old-school web layouts.

While the Wikimedia Foundation will obviously get some money from running Enterprise, the organization expects its service to only make up “a small portion” of its revenue.

Update June 22nd, 4:24PM ET: Updated to add a statement from a Wikimedia spokesperson and to clarify that the Internet Archive isn’t paying for Enterprise.