Searching the Wikipedia

Qwika is a new search engine that lets you search the Wikipedia. Pandia takes a closer look at the online encyclopedia.

What’s a wiki?

The wiki movement is growing, and the most well known wiki of them all, the Wikipedia, is getting glowing press world wide.

Let’s backtrack: A wiki is a website for online collaborate writing that allows all users to add and edit content using a web browser. The name is from the Hawaiian "wiki", meaning "quick", "fast", or "to hasten".

The Wikipedia

The Wikipedia is a free online dictionary based on volunteer, unpaid, collaboration of the wiki kind.

The project began on January 15, 2001 and is now operated by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. Wikipedia has more than 3,500,000 articles.

According to the Wikipedia there are over 200 language editions, around 100 of which are active. Thirteen editions have more than 50,000 articles each: English, German, French, Japanese, Polish, Italian, Swedish, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Norwegian. The English version has more than 1,003,000 articles.

Given that so many different people help writing the articles of the encyclopedia, the quality does vary.

There are also quite a few snippets of text that should not have been included, including false biographies. There is even a separate site focused on offending, defamatory and untrue Wikipedia content.

On the other hand, the system also makes it possible for people to change text they do not like. US Congress staff has, for instance, been known to polish political biographies.

Still, no one can deny that the Wikipedia includes a large number of high quality articles. Moreover, it is free, and that is hard to beat.

Searching the Wikipedia

So far so good. But how do you find your way around the Wikipedia? There is a quick and decent site search engine, for sure, but not everybody thinks it gives what is needed. The main problem applies to cross-language searching.

The German version, for instance, is based on original German language articles, and not translations of the English language material. If a German speaking person would like to search both versions, she or he will have to do two searches, one with the German term and one with an English language query.

Clusty's Wikipedia search

The Clysty search engine offers its own interface to search the Wikipedia.

You access this feature by clicking the Wikipedia tab above the search box. The page you are presented with is based on Wikipedia's home page, with such items ad Today's featured article and In the news?.

More importantly, there is a Clusty search box, which lets you search Wikipedias articles (at the time of writing there are over one million of them) with Clusty's search technology. This way, you get the added value of search results presented in clusters by topic. Extra information like this is certainly beneficial when you are searching an encyclopedia of this size.

Qwika, searching across languages

Metcalfe is the founder of, a new Wikipedia search engine. Qwika index machine translated content, so that users may search for terms in their own language and see results translated from English.

It is still in beta, and the results are far from perfect (think of the problems following from all the scholarly terms of scientific disciplines!), but it is a beginning.

Qwika also makes content from 10 of the other language versions available to English speaking searchers.

The interface is purely text based and follows the design of the Wikipedia itself. Fair enough, it is clear and transparent. The search form is followed by a brief explanation of what this is all about and links to the various language versions of the search engine.

The search result pages gives a list of all the relevant hits Qwika has found in all of the 11 language versions covered. If you are using the English language search engine the results will also include hits from the 10 Non-English Wikipedias. The page descriptions are in English, and a click on the result will bring you to an English language translation of the page.

Machine translations

Anyone who have used online automatic translation services, like the AltaVista Babelsfish, knows that such machine translation will normally end up with something that is not quite like English. It may also bring in an unwanted element of comedy.

In general, however, the Qwika translations are not too bad, and as long as you know what to expect, they are useful, especially if you cannot find what you are looking for in your own language version.

If you know some of the other languages, you may also skip the translation and go directly to — in this case — the German article.

As far as we know, there is no similar search engine available at the moment, although SufWax will give you an alternative search interface to the Wikipedia with its WikiWax search engine.

Note also that and Yahoo may include direct links to Wikipedia articles. They offer no cross-language search, though.

Note: This is an archived article. Published on 4 March 2006. Written by Per and Susanne Koch.