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May 11, 2007

I was at a college graduation ceremony yesterday, and when one of the student speakers mentioned Wikipedia the graduates broke into applause. "Now we can finally admit that we use Wikipedia for research," the speaker continued. That brought another round of cheers from the kids as well as some futile boos and hisses from parents and faculty.

Also yesterday, Facebook let it be known that it would launch a free classified-advertising service, which will compete with Craigslist. That's a smart move. Facebook's core users - college and high-school kids - are also big users of Craigslist. When Facebookers go off-network, Craigslist is probably one of their most likely destinations. So creating an in-network version of Craigslist will significantly expand Facebook's control over its members' online time. “We don’t try to lock people up or take more of their time," Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg fibs to the New York Times today. Then he tells the truth: "If we can provide people with efficient tools, they will use the site more.” Every page view Zuckerberg steals from Craigslist is money in his pocket.

But if Craigslist is a big draw for Facebook members, my guess is that Wikipedia is an even bigger draw. I'm too lazy to look for the stats, but Wikipedia must be at or near the top of the list of sites that Facebookers go to when they leave Facebook. To generalize: Facebook is the dorm; Wikipedia is the library; and Craigslist is the mall. One's for socializing; one's for studying; one's for trading.

Which brings me to my suggestion for Zuckerberg: He should capitalize on Wikipedia's open license and create an in-network edition of the encyclopedia. It would be a cinch: Suck in Wikipedia's contents, incorporate a Wikipedia search engine into Facebook (Wikipedia's own search engine stinks, so it should be easy to build a better one), serve up Wikipedia's pages in a new, better-designed Facebook format, and, yes, incorporate some advertising. There may also be some social-networking tools that could be added for blending Wikipedia content with Facebook content.

Suddenly, all those Wikipedia page views become Facebook page views - and additional ad revenues. And, of course, all the content is free for the taking. I continue to be amazed that more sites aren't using Wikipedia content in creative ways. Of all the sites that could capitalize on that opportunity, Facebook probably has the most to gain.


I'm not a big fan of forking content like Wikipedia. It seems like a much different beast than forking an open source program, in a bad way.

In this case, unless you do some sort of elaborate sync with the Wikipedia site on a regular basis, the "Facebookpedia" content would quickly diverge from the original. Assuming that most (or all) of the core Wikipedia contributors would continue to volunteer for Wikipedia.org, you're leaving the Facebook version to a group of people whose average age is probably 22-24.

You could make Facebookpedia read-only, but I suppose that sort of defeats the purpose.

Maybe Facebook and Wikipedia could work out a deal (an annual contribution to the organization, maybe) which would allow them search the wiki content directly and bring back results in the Facebook interface.

I'd think that be the best case: Students would always be getting the most current version of articles, and there wouldn't be any duplication of effort.

Posted by: Jason Berberich [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 11, 2007 03:52 PM

Provide the text read-only (let Wikipedia deal with the intricacies of creating the stuff) and sync it daily (or weekly or monthly). How hard could it be?

Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 11, 2007 04:12 PM

Yeah, you're right - making it read-only would make it a lot easier. I took your suggestion as forking the content and letting Facebookers edit that version.

Posted by: Jason Berberich [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 11, 2007 06:01 PM

Make the main article read-only, but allow people to comment on it by school or group. If you kept these comments separate from the main group it might make working on projects easier or just make the page more interesting. Perhaps an option to share page comments with just your group or with the world (the the flip side to only see comments from your group or the world).

The main data could be synced with rsync to save time and bandwidth, if Wikipedia supports rsync.

This approach would allow Facebook to leverage Wikipedia content to build something of more value.


Posted by: Wayne [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 12, 2007 01:47 PM

Someone's got to be able to do better than Craigslist. I appreciate their minimalist approach, but the lack of functionality, especially in searching ads, is really a disgrace. They seem way too complacent.

But the network effects of a popular ad site can't be underestimated, and they may be hard to unseat.

Posted by: Kendall Brookfeld [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 13, 2007 11:26 AM

I don't agree with this post. I think it's a bad thing to promote taking away traffic from such a valuable internet resource. It's obvious that Facebook doesn't have the vision or motivation for doing what Wikipedia does already, apart from looking for ways to increase revenue. If they had the vision to create such a network that included a Wikipedia, they would have already done it, and it would have been an original venture - not an open attempt at "forking" Wikipedia's open source code to copy the site. They're not Microsoft, so I don't think Facebook has the desire to take someone else's somewhat original idea, sort of re-package it, and make their living from the continued payoffs. Anyway, I'm going to write a post of my own on my own blog about this, so if you want to read more, go to http://searchnovice.blogspot.com.

(I didn't really just comment to post a plug for my blog, but this is an interesting topic, and I just couldn't resist!)

Happy blogging - and keep it comin!

Posted by: SearchNovice [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 14, 2007 12:29 PM

There are two interesting externalities between Wikipedia and Facebook:
1. FB is is great at identifying people; by sharing an account (e.g. though OpenID) policing and group efforts would be made easier; note that students have time, access and incentives to use references and libraries, all what Wikipedia needs;
2. Facebook is also organized by majors, and connecting those to Wikipedia pages would be useful --- so as having faculty links on a local copy of the Wikipedia page: such professor is quoted in the article and he is next door? Why not have a link?

Posted by: Bertil [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2007 09:41 AM

This is a great idea for Facebook. It think it would be very interesting to see the facebookpedia edits tied in with real Facebook user accounts.

Posted by: engtech [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2007 01:35 PM

SearchNovice wrote: "They're not Microsoft, so I don't think Facebook has the desire to take someone else's somewhat original idea, sort of re-package it, and make their living from the continued payoffs."

That statement is quite funny given what you can read about Facebook's inception on... Wikipedia:

"Founder of Facebook.com, Mark Zuckerberg, has been accused of stealing both concept and code from competing site Connectu.com. In November 2003, ConnectU engaged Mark Zuckerberg, then a sophomore at Harvard, to complete the computer programming for their website. Upon joining the ConnectU team, Zuckerberg was given complete unfettered access to the website code. Allegedly, Zuckerberg intentionally hampered the development of ConnectU while using code originally intended for ConnectU in the development of Facebook."

Posted by: BOwczarek [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 20, 2007 10:55 AM

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