Wikia Search opens its doors
Five months after the launch of a beta version, Wikia Search has been officially released as a search engine. In the search engine launched by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, users will determine what hits look like. Wales may himself suffer from this approach.
From the outset, this alternative search engine has been criticized for the lack of an index and an incomplete user interface. The release version now turns out to be a search engine that everyone can play with. After entering a search term, any user can rearrange the hit list within the Ajax interface. Menu items appear next to each hit for users to evaluate and comment on individual links. Even the description of the links can be changed. Those who know of better hits can simply add them. If a hit takes you completely in the wrong direction, you can delete it – in which case it is still displayed, but with a strike through. The interface is very flexible. For instance, in a video Jimmy Wales shows how the search fields from other websites can be directly integrated in Wikia's hit list.
Wikia Search relies on volunteers in a number of ways. To fill up the index, Wikia purchased the open source Grub WebCrawler, which runs both on the computers of volunteers and on a server farm operated by the Internet System Consortium. Despite these efforts, only some 30 million websites have been included in the index to date, making hit lists much less complete than those of the competition. Wikia therefore also includes links to the search results of Google and Yahoo.
But user involvement does not necessarily lead to clearly better results, as Jimmy Wales found out himself. A bout of mudslinging currently taints the search results for the founder of Wikia. For instance, the first hits for Wales are especially critical links. And while a Wikipedia article on syphilis has been deleted from the hit list, the struck-through entry is still displayed. Wales' nemesis Gregory Kohs, whom Wales once banned from Wikipedia, is especially busy in this campaign; he is currently also a candidate for the Wikimedia Foundation board.
Wikia is not the only firm trying to come up with a user-based search engine. Its main competitor is Mahalo, which primarily relies on its employees to collate the best links on certain topics. Just before the new version of Wikia Search was launched, Mahalo also opened itself up a bit and now allows all users to edit short articles on search terms, though the contributions are reviewed before publication.
Indeed, established search engine providers are also looking into ways to beef up their classic search results. For instance, Yahoo has launched its Search Monkey Project to add external sources to its hit lists. The search results themselves will, however, remain unaffected.