Mike Arrington posted what he says is an exclusive screenshot of a Wikia search page, but Jimmy Wales has said that Mike’s post is all wrong and that the screenshot has nothing to do with what he’s working on. In a comment on Rex Dixon’s blog, Mike says that his source is pretty good and he thinks what he saw was an early version of Wiki Search. Meanwhile, Rich Skrenta has said that Jimbo is also interested in reviving the Open Directory Project in some way — another attempt at people-powered search that has fallen on hard times (hat tip to Techdirt for the link).
I’ll say this much: Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, founder of Wikipedia, has no shortage of hubris. Instead of saying he plans to launch a “social” search engine using Wikipedia-style co-operation strategies, he comes right out and tells the Times that he’s gunning for Google. Why not reach for the top, right? So Google has a few thousand PhDs and about $40-billion in cash. Big deal.
Like many people, my first impression of Jimbo’s new idea was that it has a really dumb name: Wikiasari, a Hawaiian-Japanese hybrid that is likely to irritate people from many different cultures. And my second impression was that Jimmy has a bit of a mountain to climb with his “social search” proposal. As Pete Cashmore at Mashable notes, this kind of thing has been tried before, and more or less, well… failed.
In a comment on Niall Kennedy’s post about Wikiasari, Greg Linden of Findory — which finds relevant blog posts and news articles based on things you have read before — points to a piece that Chris Sherman wrote at SearchEngineWatch awhile back about social search and how it doesn’t really work all that well, especially as the Web continues to grow.
No matter how many people get involved with bookmarking, tagging, voting or otherwise highlighting web content, the scale and scope of the web means that most content will be unheralded by social search efforts. The web is simply growing too quickly for humans to keep up with it.
That doesn’t mean that social search efforts aren’t usefulâ€”in most cases, they are. It simply means that people-mediated search will never be as comprehensive as algorithmic search.
Mashable also makes a good point, which is that a social search engine could easily wind up being just as distorted by ulterior motives as a service like Digg is, since there would be even more incentive to get to the front page of search results. Wikipedia is already criticized for the way its internal group of editors control entries from behind the scenes. What if their actions meant the difference between hundreds of dollars and millions of dollars in advertising?
Jimbo also takes a whack at Google’s search results in the Times piece, by saying that if you search for something like “Tampa hotels” all you get “is crap.” But I searched for Tampa hotels and got half a dozen totally relevant listings for hotel directories, local Tampa search sites and so on. How is that not relevant? And how would people-powered search provide anything better for me if I wanted to find a good hotel? Jimmy’s got a bit of work to do.