• Non-profit Wikipedia just announced a potential enterprise contracts for businesses.
  • Amazon and Apple don't pay to use Wikipedia to answer user questions through Siri and Alexa.
  • Wikipedia exec Lisa Seitz-Gruwell explains how the non-profit could use the contract money to grow.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Big tech's relationship with Wikipedia could undergo a massive shift this year.

On March 16, Wikipedia announced a historic Enterprise API tool, allowing businesses to better integrate Wikipedia content to their products. Wired first reported the news. 

Today, Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, and Google use Wikipedia to answer user questions — but they don't pay anything to the free encyclopedia.

The new enterprise contracts would transform the free encyclopedia's relationship with corporations and level the playing field with tech giants like Apple and Amazon.

"We want the bigger users of the content to contribute back," Lisa Seitz-Gruwell, the chief advancement officer at the Wikimedia Foundation, said in an interview with Insider. "And I should say, many of them  have given us donations, but many of them haven't. So [an enterprise contract] makes that more consistent."

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The new Enterprise contracts will be opt-in, meaning companies can still use Wikipedia the way they are now without paying. The non-profit said the contracts will also set up better guidelines for attributing Wikipedia content.

Wikipedia, which has been funded solely through donations and grant funding since it launched in 2001, has never charged businesses for the product. Cofounders Larry Sanger and Jimmy Wales launched Wikipedia in 2001 on the principle of free, decentralized information, similar to the open-source movement for software. It's the only top 20 most visited digital platform operated by a non-profit, per Comscore

"We are so lucky we are funded by about 8 million people around the world who donate an average of $15. These people are a part of our community," Seitz-Gruwell told Insider. "That's going to continue to be the main way that the Wikimedia foundation is funded."

What Wikipedia hopes to get out of contracts with tech giants

Though large tech organizations have used Wikipedia's information for their own products for years, the non-profit site launched Enterprise API now because of the time it takes volunteers to communicate and decide on an action, Seitz-Gruwell said. She said the group has 280,000 volunteers closely involved with Wikipedia, including 80,000 active editors.

Apple and Google are listed as Wikimedia's "major benefactors," having donated more than $50,000 between 2017 and 2018. Amazon donated $1 million to Wikipedia in 2018 following after failing to appear on a list of the organization's top corporate donors. 

Seitz-Gruwell said the firm wants to remain funded primarily through donations and grants, and does not foresee contracts making up a large part of Wikimedia's revenue. The non-profit recorded $180 million in net assets in 2020 from donations and grants.

Instead of using donor money to build tools for tech firms, Wikipedia will use money through the business contracts. That way, Wikipedia uses companies' own money to build products for them. If successful, Wikipedia plans to use extra money generated from contracts to build better products for emerging markets in Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia.

"By 2030, one of the things that we want is to achieve something called knowledge equity, which really means we want to grow in emerging markets really significantly over the next 10 years," Seitz-Gruwell said. "That requires additional resources, increased investment, and we are hopeful that enterprise can help get us the resources to grow around the world."

Amazon, Apple, and Google were not immediately available for additional comment.