Introducing the Wikimedia Enterprise API

Over the last 20 years the Wikimedia projects have grown into essential knowledge resources that are not just used by billions of people, but also by many commercial organizations that incorporate our content and data into their products. With this in mind, many in the Wikimedia movement have discussed for years the possibility of building fee-based ‘enterprise grade’ services for the high-volume commercial reusers of Wikimedia content – designed to address their specific technical needs and also enabling them to directly sustain the free knowledge ecosystem.

Over the last few months, a small team at the Wikimedia Foundation has been working on just such a project. Today we are sharing our progress toward this goal and we are asking for the movement’s feedback: 

Introducing the Wikimedia Enterprise API. 

The Wikimedia Enterprise API packages existing, public data from Wikimedia projects in a way that makes it easier for commercial companies to reuse it for their own services. The new API is an opt-in product, meaning that everyone (including those companies) can continue to use the current publicly-available tools at no cost and no restriction. The ability to freely access the knowledge across all Wikimedia projects remains unaffected–it is core to our mission.

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. In this way, it will make knowledge shared by volunteers across the world even more accessible. One potential use case for Wikimedia Enterprise, for example, are the ‘infoboxes’ or knowledge graphs shown in search engine results

An essay describing the “why?” and the “how?” of this project is now available on Meta. Also now published on Meta are an extensive FAQ, operating principles, and technical documentation on MediaWiki.org. Much of this documentation is also available in French, German, Italian, and Spanish.

While the general idea for Wikimedia Enterprise predates the current movement strategy process, its recommendations identify an enterprise API as one possible solution to both “Increase the sustainability of our movement” and “Improve User Experience.” That is, to simultaneously create a new revenue stream to protect Wikimedia’s sustainability, and improve the quality and quantity of Wikimedia content available to our many readers who do not visit our websites directly (including more consistent attribution). Moreover, it does so in a way that is true to our movement’s culture, with open source software, financial transparency, non-exclusive contracts or content, no restrictions on existing services, and free access for Wikimedia volunteers who need it.

The principles of free cultural works mean that anyone can use Wikimedia without restriction, including commercially. As a movement, we embrace this. It is why we consider commercial reuse an important means of distributing knowledge to audiences. Equally, the ability to freely access the knowledge available across all Wikimedia projects has always been core to the mission of the Foundation and the movement. We provide this access not only to individuals visiting our websites but also programmatically to machines so that our content can be repurposed in other environments. This expands access to volunteer-created knowledge to more people around the world.  

As a result, our content is often reused by commercial organizations that rely on it to support their business models, and, in turn, earn revenue from it. However, what many of the largest commercial technology organizations require in order to effectively utilize Wikimedia content goes beyond what we currently provide. Consequently, each of these large companies independently re-builds Wikimedia project data internally to address their very similar use-cases. This significant investment is not only duplicated effort, but also represents resources spent within each company rather than in support of the free knowledge ecosystem.

Serving the needs of a group of highly intensive reusers of Wikimedia content is ambitious. Those needs are valid. However, using the Wikimedia Foundation’s existing financial resources to respond to these needs would mean subsidizing the software development needs of some of the world’s largest commercial organizations with donor money. The Wikimedia Enterprise API avoids this through self-funding.

We are still determining costs for the product. We will likely explore factors such as the volume of content reuse to determine the appropriate cost for each customer. All Enterprise API revenue will unequivocally be used to support the Wikimedia mission and other movement activities—for example, to fund Wikimedia programs or help grow the Wikimedia Endowment. This new revenue stream is not a replacement for existing fundraising efforts, but rather a supplement to ensure we’re supporting Wikimedia’s sustainability for years to come. We continue to rely on donors around the world to sustain our movement and its financial independence.

The Wikimedia Enterprise API project team is particularly interested in your feedback on how we have designed the checks and balances of this project. We want to ensure it is as successful as possible at achieving the goals described above, while also staying true to Wikimedia’s values and culture. If you would like to share your thoughts or ask questions about the Wikimedia Enterprise API project, please do so at the talk page of Wikimedia Enterprise on Meta

Read more about the service in this WIRED article