Today Wikipedia’s creator Jimmy Wales officially released the alpha version of Wikia Search, an open-source search engine that will integrate users’ contribution with computer algorithms. And it will make that code public.
“I’ve said before that Internet search must be more open and transparent and today marks a major milestone in our mission to make it just that,” Wales told Reuters.
Jeremie Miller, founder of Jabber and Wikia Search Architect, added, “Search is becoming one of the most powerful tools humankind has ever created—only transparency and open participation will protect these tools from abuse.”
The open source search engine will rely on user contributions and search rankings. Wikia Search can execute basic search queries, which can be discussed and ranked by anyone. It can also be used for social networking—creating a personal profile, adding friends, sharing photos and managing privacy setting. In addition, anyone can write and edit mini articles. Writing those articles, substantitive information associated with search terms, is the most important thing users can do to move the alpha efforts forward, according to the site.
The Wikia Search website acknowledges the product’s alpha status with the statement, “We are aware that the quality of the search results is low. Of course, before we start, we have no user feedback data.”
But that status has been met with harsh reviews by some, including Stan Schroeder a blogger at the popular tech blog Mashable who wrote, “Every time I review a new search engine I am instantly reminded of how well Google works.” And the influential Michael Arrington entitled his TechCrunch review “Wikia Search Is a Complete Letdown.” He also detailed the new search engine’s failings, saying, “It may be one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had the displeasure of reviewing.” Criticisms surround the search engine’s poor results and lack of a “human” element.
“All in all, Wikia Search looks like something that was cooked by two guys in one month in a basement,” concluded Schroeder.
Wales responded to Arrington’s post by reinforcing the alpha status of the search engine and by reminding readers that like Wikipedia, the Wikia Search relies on collaboration. “It’s a project to *build* a search engine, not a search engine,” he said. He pointed to day one of Wikipedia’s launch, which was an “empty website with some funny editing syntax.” He also addressed the unflattering comparisons to Google. “Google didn’t launch a project to build a human-powered search engine, they launched an algorithmic search engine with a clever new idea. So they didn’t have to wait for the humans to come in and start building it.”
Only time will tell whether users opt to build Wikia Search as they have Facebook, YouTube—and Wikipedia—or simply choose to stay with Google and other search engines.