Fuzl's Free Lexicon is an ongoing effort to create a truly free dictionary. We believe there should be a dictionary out there that is so free the creator would literally put a link on their homepage to download the dictionary database, including all content, with no login required and no strings attached. Absolutely anyone could download the database and do whatever they want with it for free and with no obligations. And when we say "anything," we mean anything. Personal, educational, and for-profit commercial use of any kind would be allowed. This is our goal.
Before creating Fuzl, our founder was a software developer for over 20 years. On more than one occasion he came up against a requirement for programmatic dictionary access, i.e. the ability to make automated requests to a dictionary "server" in order to provide definitions for language learning apps. While there are lots of dictionaries out there that claim to be free, and in spite of extensive research, we've never found one that is actually truly free.
But there are free dictionaries out there!
For an individual who just wants to look up a word for personal use, yes, there are free dictionaries out there. You'll mostly likely be bombarded with obtrusive ads and a frustrating site design, but you can certainly look up your word for free. The trouble comes if you want to do anything non-personal, such as create a website or app that accesses the dictionary programmatically and displays some of its data to your own audience on your own site. For such uses, whether explicitly commercial in nature or for other kinds of non-personal use, such as by educational, research, or non-profit organizations, it is a completely different story.
Ok, but is it really that big of a problem?
Most dictionary providers will require you to pay them, sometimes for each word you want to look up programmatically, and there are all kinds of restrictions on how you use their data. Some don't allow you to cache (i.e. make a temporary copy of) their data which means you have to make a call over the Internet every single time you need to look up a word, rather than just storing a copy locally. Not only is this a ridiculous waste of bandwidth, but it will slow your app down and exposes your app to potential downtime due to a 3rd party's server being down. Even if you could get past these issues, many dictionary providers have extensive requirements, such as posting copyright notices, links to their site, or even conditions on how you must make your end product available to your users. For example, they might require your app to also be free. We've even found some dictionaries that are free, but they're illegally giving access to another party's copyrighted material. We deeply respect the rights, including copyright, that others hold in their work and would never want to use unlawful materials.
Why not just pay?
When faced with such a challenge, one might think, "Well, they put a lot of effort into creating their dictionary so why not just accept their rules and requirements?" Well, for us and many like us, the prices are just not practical. If I have an app with very frequent lookup needs and they require me to pay by the word, it would cost more for dictionary access than we could ever hope to collect from the user. Even worse, it is one of those situations where you end up dependent on a 3rd party who can change the rules at any time. It's not your data. You are just leasing access to their data and they can change the price and rules of access at any time, much like a landlord who aggressively raises the rent on tenants, crushing the tenant's profit margin and extracting as much money as possible for themselves. This is not a position any small business wants to be in.
Shortly after starting Fuzl, we hit this same frustrating wall again. We want to create activities in Fuzl Accelerator to practice spelling. Well, of course we need a good source of words and their definitions (and ideally pronunciations, etymologies, audio recordings, etc). Argh! Not this again. We looked for something "free enough" to avoid the worst of the above issues. No luck. We checked if perhaps a spelling bee organizer would have some word lists without any of the above issues. No dice! We even contacted multiple large dictionary providers. Only one responded and basically said "How much data would you like to buy today?" like a cheesy salesperson. We knew where that was leading... and we just can't do it. So, our choice is to not create the spelling features we want or to create our own dictionary from scratch. We will not be defeated!
Is this even practical?
We think so. Many of the major dictionaries have hundreds of thousands of words in them. However, most use cases don't require anywhere near that many. For example, how many words would be required for a comprehensive English learners dictionary or a dictionary to support a spelling practice app for students through the high school level? Maybe twenty thousand? That is doable. It is doable but probably expensive to do alone... but that's where the light bulb went off. We're not the only ones that want a truly free dictionary. Our research showed many others that felt the same way, and we have a plan to harness this common desire for the public good.
We hope to find on the order of 100 qualified people to donate on the order of 100 hours each (over the course of a year or two) to create the content. We'll donate the resources to complete the technical work of publishing the database in real time as it is being built as well as supporting the type of truly free access described above. We've got the freelexicon.com domain name ready to go and have prior experience building a dictionary database in the past. Together, we can do this!
Please contact us if you'd like to be a part of this effort.