The Wikimedia Foundation, built over the past two decades with the donated labor of its Wikipedia community, plans to offer corporate enterprises programmatic access to its content through paid API packages.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Liam Wyatt, program manager for WikiCite at Wikimedia Foundation, explained that the forthcoming Wikimedia Enterprise API will provide a way for commercial companies to reuse content from projects like Wikipedia in their own services.
Nothing will change for organizations and individuals that wish to continue to access Wikimedia projects at no cost. The database dumps and general audience APIs will remain. But companies that prefer to ingest project data via an open source API for faster, more reliable repurposing will soon have a way to pay for premium service, complete with a service-level agreement.
"The new product will standardize our data feeds for faster, more effective updates and make our content more easily machine-readable for a fee to customers who chose to use it," explained Wyatt. "In this way, it will make knowledge shared by volunteers across the world even more accessible. "
The API was built on Amazon Web Services for the sake of expediency, though the stated goal is to create a cloud-agnostic application.
According to Wyatt, Wikimedia content is often used by commercial companies to generate revenue for their own products. But large organizations like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google have requirements beyond what the Wikimedia Foundation can accommodate or afford. As a result they all implement systems to ingest Wikimedia project data internally, resulting in duplicated effort that doesn't offer much in the way of reciprocal benefit.
The Wikimedia Foundation, rather than building systems to support and subsidize these companies, hopes its Enterprise API will provide organizations with a way to pay into its own system so that everyone benefits.
The cost of the using the API has yet to be determined but Wyatt maintains the Enterprise API will support the Wikimedia Foundation's mission: "to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content under a free license or in the public domain, and to disseminate it effectively and globally."
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Responding to skepticism about the willingness of Google and its peers to buy into the API, in light of Google's effort to supplant Wikipedia with its failed Knol project, Wyatt argues that contracts and SLA make for better relationships with large organizations.
"I think it is safe to say that 'big tech' has no specific ideological or emotional attachment to the long-term success of Wikimedia projects, and past-attempts to replace us (e.g. Knol) show this," he wrote. "That is one of the reasons why this 'enterprise' service is being built."
Rather than appealing to tech giants with moral arguments, Wyatt contends the Enterprise API represent an attempt to create a product large companies will want without restricting their options.
"It is a far more sustainable revenue model, and relationship model, for us if these organizations are able to 'speak their language' to us – the language of commercial contracts," he said. "With a legal relationship in place, we will be in a much more strong position, a more sustainable position, to talk about things like correct and consistent attribution." ®