A year ago, I wondered “why no devious entrepreneurs have made a concerted effort to take Wikipedia’s content, which is of course free to be reused in any way, and reformat and rebrand it as an attractive commercial site.” Why not mine Wikipedia’s unexploited commercial value?
Companies like Metaweb, through its Freebase service, and Radar Networks, through its Twine service, have begun mining Wikipedia, at least indirectly. They use the site’s content to help populate the Semantic Web databases they’re building. Embedded in Wikipedia’s structure and links is a lot of information about the relationships between things, and this information may have considerable commercial value in building a more intelligent web.
Now, we have a startup – Veropedia – that hopes to more directly exploit Wikipedia by presenting, in effect, a premium edition of the free encyclopedia. It’s a cream-skimming – or cream-scraping – operation that aims to make money through advertising. As Slashdot explains, Veropedia is an effort “to collect the best of Wikipedia’s content, clean it up, vet it, and save it in a quality stable version that cannot be edited. To qualify for inclusion in Veropedia, a Wikipedia article must contain no cleanup tags, no ‘citation needed’ tags, no disambiguation links, no dead external links, and no fair use images after which candidates for inclusion are reviewed by recognized academics and experts.”
Veropedia claims that its relationship with Wikipedia is symbiotic – that even as it sucks up the Wik’s economic value it will help improve the quality of its host. As one of Veropedia’s developers explains, “Veropedia has a very comprehensive article checker that points out just about every flaw with an article that a computer program can find. But articles aren’t edited on Veropedia. Veropedia contributors must go and edit the article on Wikipedia, fixing up all the flaws, until a quality version is ready for importation to Veropedia. So everyone wins: both Wikipedia and Veropedia get improved articles.”
This is a slick variation on the sharecropping business model. Veropedia doesn’t even have to invest in the upkeep of the plantation; it just swoops in, grabs the most valuable crops, and sells them down the street at its own farm stand. To switch back to the mining metapher, the Veropedians don’t have to get their hands dirty – they leave the shovels and pickaxes to the Wikipedians. Here’s how the self-described “group of Wikipedians” who started Veropedia put it: “if you think of Wikipedia as a diamond mine, we think of ourselves as jewelers who provide a finished product to the public.”
Will it work? Probably not. A quick look at the Veropedia site doesn’t reveal much added value. It looks like a shoestring operation that’s pretty much doing straight screen-scrapes at this point. In following links, you end up bouncing back to Wikipedia in a confusing way. And I don’t see any evidence of these “recognized academics and experts” who are supposed to be reviewing and “verofying” everything. If you’re going to monetize Wikipedia’s content through an alternative encyclopedia site, you first have to overcome Wikipedia’s momentum – and that means offering users clear and compelling benefits. Veropedia doesn’t.
There may be diamonds in them thar Wikipedian hills – or at least some sparkling chunks of cubic zirconia – but Veropedia is still miles from pay dirt.