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December 23, 2006

Wikia, an Open Search Engine

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, plans to launch a search engine code-named Wikia in the first quarter of 2007. Following the model of Wikipedia, the new search engine will have user-editable search results.

"Google is very good at many types of search, but in many instances it produces nothing but spam and useless crap. Try searching for the term [Tampa hotels], for example, and you will not get any useful results," said Jimmy Wales. Well, maybe the example is not very good, because I see mostly useful results.

Mr. Wales did the impossible by creating an excellent resource of information with the support of a community. Now he wants to repeat the success, but this time the project will be supported by advertising.

"Essentially, if you consider one of the basic tasks of a search engine, it is to make a decision: 'this page is good, this page sucks'. Computers are notoriously bad at making such judgments, so algorithmic search has to go about it in a roundabout way. But we have a really great method for doing that ourselves. We just look at the page. It usually only takes a second to figure out if the page is good, so the key here is building a community of trust that can do that," added Wikipedia's founder.

I think the main job of a search engine is to understand how relevant a page is for a particular query. To scale, a search engine should that algorithmically. While people have a better ability to decide if a page is relevant, that doesn't mean spammers won't try to push their sites.

But the main reason for creating a search engine is that he thinks search is broken "for the same reason that proprietary software is always broken: lack of freedom, lack of community, lack accountability, lack of transparency." Google, for example, won't become open source because it uses proprietary algorithms, other search engines could copy its code and people could tweak their sites to abuse it.

It will be interesting to see if a search engine based only on human intelligence really works.

Update: Jimmy Wales explains in a Wired interview that "the core of the concept is the open-source nature of everything we're intending to do -- making all of the algorithms public, making all of the data public and trying to achieve the maximum possible transparency." Wales doesn't give a launch date: "The project to build the community to build the search engine is launching in the first quarter of 2007, not the search engine itself. We may have something up pretty quickly, maybe some sort of demo or test for people to start playing with."

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