Recognizing that the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is increasingly used by the public as a news source, Google News began this month to include Wikipedia among the stable of publications it trawls to create the site.
A visit to the Google News home page on Wednesday evening, for example, found that four of the 30 or so articles summarized there had prominent links to Wikipedia articles, including ones covering the global swine flu outbreak and the Iranian election protests.
The inclusion of Wikipedia articles among the thousands of publications used by Google News began as an experiment that was seen by a small percentage of users, said a company spokesman, Gabriel Stricker. Before making the addition permanent, he said, Google wanted to be sure that even people seeking news would want to read the articles created by volunteers working in collaboration over the Internet.
“We saw users were finding the Wikipedia pages to be helpful complements to so many stories they saw,” he said, adding that Wikipedia frequently offered “the broader overview on the topic.”
Google’s promotion of Wikipedia content is hardly new: its search engine routinely lists Wikipedia articles as the first result for a search. But their use on the news site — especially as newspaper publishers have been complaining that Google was building a competing news site using headlines and snippets of newspaper articles — adds a new wrinkle to the question of how publications can control and charge for their content.
In response to critics’ concerns over the accuracy of what appears on Wikipedia, the articles there, particularly about breaking news, can be meticulously sourced. The article “Iranian Presidential Election, 2009,” for example, had more than 200 footnotes by the weekend. So, in essence, many Wikipedia articles are another way that the work of news publications is quickly condensed and reused without compensation.
The move by Google News was news to Wikipedia itself. Jay Walsh, a spokesman for the Wikimedia Foundation, said he learned about it by reading an online item on the subject by the Nieman Journalism Lab.
“Google is recognizing that Wikipedia is becoming a source for very up-to-date information,” he said, although “it is an encyclopedia at the end of the day.” NOAM COHEN