Post in Wikipedia Weekly Facebook group by Asaf Bartov

Asaf Bartov - February 24, 2016

AFAICT, no presentation to KF was ever given that included "a full-blown search engine" in the sense of one that indexes the entire Web. The deck that now lives on Commons (link below) is claimed by both Wes Moran and Lila to be virtually identical (minus a title slide) to the one delivered before the KF. (NB: we all understand Wikipedia has had a search engine for years. The debate re "search engine", of course, revolves around the sense of "search function over an index of external, non-Wikimedia, sources")

It was only after staff (outside the Discovery team, *who were also in the dark* regarding the grant and what was written in it) began asking persistent questions on the staff-wide mailing list about the mysterious and undefined "Knowledge Engine" that Lila shared any information at all.

Perhaps as a measure of quieting the unrest, a presentation of the aforementioned deck (now on Commons, but until then not even shared internally) was given to the Community Engagement department, on Oct 15th 2015.

I attended that presentation (I work for the CE department). Before joining WMF, I was making a living in software for 20 years. I therefore had a good understanding of what was being described. Slide 9, in particular, describes what can only be understood to be a search engine over data sources *external to the Wikimedia projects*, which is a departure from status quo large enough -- and involved enough (not so much technically as legally, ethically, normatively, in terms of what we would or wouldn't index and how we'd serve results or cooperate with 3rd-party tracking) -- to *require* broad *public* discussion. Any number of people at WMF could have easily pointed that out, but it appears no experienced Wikipedians at all were in the loop before the decision to apply for the grant was made.

Following the presentation, I wrote on that same all-staff thread where questions were being asked (not just by me), I posted an e-mail that included an explicit request from Lila:

"Lila: Since you acknowledge this level of exclusion was a mistake, perhaps you can oblige staff by dispersing some of the fog and stating, in simple words, just what KE is, *not* just in the current-quarter or at the current-FY level, but with a view to the multi-year vision and planning evident from Wes's deck (and: can that be shared?), and whatever may have been discussed with that external donor? I don't think you need to take a long time preparing something elaborate -- just talk to us and say it in your own words. What do you think?"

Gratifyingly, Lila took me up on that suggestion. Distressingly, her response contained what I -- by then, having watched the presentation -- knew was a lie:

- a stand-alone product
- a search engine
- a committed strategy
- a technology architecture

KE is
- a draft of ideas
- a thought process on making our current knowledge more visible
- a test for improvement of some features/ rough UX/APIs(Wikidata)
- a thought about how we improve linking of GLAM/LIB-style databases"

Or maybe more than one lie. Beyond denying that the deck (whatever was or was no longer on the team's actual plans by that time) includes a description of a search engine, that list would have had staff believe -- in early November 2015, months after pitching the grant and a couple of months after *receiving it*, that it was "a draft of ideas" and not "a committed strategy".

A few days later (Nov 9th, see Molly White's excellent timeline), at the all staff meeting, I confronted Lila about these falsehoods, and asked why we are being lied to. My concerns were dismissed (by Jimmy) as "harsh words", and a re-assertion that no search engine is planned. No further explanation was offered of the plain contradictions in what we have been told.