The Next Google? Wikipedia

With Its Eyes on an Ad Empire, the Web Giant's Grip on Search May Be Slipping

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Last month, Google accounted for a staggering 47.3% of all web searches, according to ComScore. However, for all the hype about Google vs. Yahoo et al., Wikipedia quietly looms as a huge threat to Google's dominance.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

Google's leadership position will be upheld only as long as it remains the search-relevance leader. This presents a dilemma. For starters, Google feeds on Wikipedia to supply much of its highest-quality results. It even hosts Wikipedia's pages. Meanwhile, Wikipedia is gearing up to challenge Google with its own search engine. And, with the launch last week of Wikiseek -- a search engine that searches only across Wikipedia pages -- it becomes quite clear that you can indeed build a search engine off the collaborative encyclopedia.

Wikipedia's rise is coming at a time when Google appears to be losing its focus on search. The company in recent months has been prioritizing the expansion of its advertising empire through pursuits such as the $1.6 billion purchase of YouTube. It feels like a very different company than it did just a couple of years ago. Some of Google's newest products lack search entirely. At the same time, Google's results feel increasingly littered with spam and irrelevant websites. The ads it serves are often cluttered and are low-quality, too.

Meanwhile, Wikipedia, which turned six last week, is rapidly rising. The number of Wikipedians who have edited 10 or more articles continues its hockey-stick growth. In October 2006 that number climbed to 158,000. What's more, media citations rose 300% last year, according to data compiled using Factiva. Last year Wikipedia was cited 11,000 times in the press. Traffic is on the rise as well. Hitwise says Wikipedia is the 20th-most-visited domain in the U.S. Let's not forget that Google was once this size, too.

As Wikipedia builds its search capability, adopts an easier-to-use interface and gets simpler to use, more netizens will get comfortable and become editors. Wikipedia's power will rise, and soon it will become clear to all that it is an emerging competitor to Google.

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Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
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