When Wikia Search was first released, it was dismissed by Mike Arrington at TechCrunch as one of the most disappointing products he had ever reviewed — primarily because it just added social features such as user profiles on to a rather lame search tool (powered by the Nutch engine). I had to agree at the time. But this alpha allows a user, through the wonders of Ajax, to click and edit in place any one of the search results, including title and description, and even allows search results to be completely deleted. You can also add new URLS, and pull data from a preview, which also appears in place.
Obviously, this is wide open to abuse — in much the same way that Wikipedia is. In fact, it’s even easier because you don’t have to click to go to an incomprehensible “edit” page with weird wiki commands for links. You just click and edit. Whether Wikia Search can develop the same kind of community of editors and overlords that Wikipedia has, which prevent the entire effort from degenerating into outright anarchy, remains to be seen. But it’s an interesting experiment, I think.
I’m generally in favour of bashing those who need to be bashed, and I definitely like taking the wind out of the Web 2.0 windbags (you know who you are), but I think the blogosphere is being a little hard on Wikia Search. Mike Arrington says that it’s a letdown, Allen Stern at Centernetworks
says it’s “not ready yet,” and Stan Schroeder of Frantic Industries comes right out and says that it sucks.
About the only person who’s being magnanimous (and can afford to be) is Google blogger Matt Cutts, who welcomes Wikia to the search business, although MG Siegler at ParisLemon says it actually looks pretty decent for something that’s in alpha. I’m inclined to give Jimmy Wales the benefit of the doubt on this one, but not because I’m one of those Wales sycophants that the always curmudgeonly Seth Finkelstein mentions.
As usual, something approaching what I think is a fair viewpoint emerges from the comments section of a blog — in this case, TechCrunch. Mike says that Wikia is disappointing, and in the comments Jimmy says that he warned everyone not to have high expectations about what it would look like, and notes that Wikipedia looked pretty rough in the early days too. That’s the problem with social anything — you can’t just pop out of the cake on day one with a built-in thriving community.
Is it just a bunch of links cobbled together by Nutch and Grub (names that sound like a couple of animated characters from a new Disney blockbuster)? Yes. It’s in alpha, for pete’s sake. For my part, I think I’m going to try and forget about Wikia Search for at least six months and then take a look around and see what’s there. If it’s still a ghost town, then maybe there will be something to get concerned about.
I was watching the interview with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on Om Malik’s show on Revision3, because I’m always interested in what Jimmy is up to, and he mentioned a site called ArmchairGM, which I don’t recall hearing about before — or at least paying much attention to. Om was talking about how he wanted a combination of his blog and a wiki, so that his community could contribute and get involved more, and Jimmy said he saw ArmchairGM as being close to that kind of thing.
ArmchairGM.com is a sports site that Wikia (the for-profit company that Wales runs) bought earlier this year for $2-million. It’s designed as a kind of combination blog and community site for sports fans, and so it has a bunch of the same features as a blog — posts, comments, etc. — but also many features of a wiki, in that anything can be edited (apart from user profiles), as well as some features of a Facebook-style social network.
For example, the site allows members to give each other gifts (which have a twist, in that they can be created by members), and to vote on or rate each other’s posts and comments — and it also has an interesting level system that allows members to work their way up based on the amount of activity they put into the site. Registering gets you 1,000 points and recruiting a new member gets you 5,000, and you get points for writing a new post, editing a post, and whether your comments get votes or not.
It’s an interesting idea, and the site appears to have gained a substantial amount of traction and developed a strong community. I don’t know how long a period the numbers relate to, but the site says it has more than 73,000 pages and there have been 441,000 edits, 660,000 votes and 173,000 comments. As of September it had about a million page views a month, according to TechCrunch.
So Jimmy Wales — founder of Wikipedia and the for-profit spinoff Wikia — has shown some screenshots of what his “social search” site might look like, which come to us courtesy of Matthew Buckland’s blog in South Africa (always happy to welcome another Matthew to the blogosphere). And guess what? They look an awful lot like Facebook. There’s a photo and a “status” section, and a link to photo galleries, plus some miscellaneous tabs and something that looks a little like the Facebook “wall.”
The idea behind Wikia seems to be similar to the idea behind Jason Calacani’s “social search” directory Mahalo.com — the idea being that raw algorithm-powered search isn’t enough any more, because it’s all filled with spam and black-hat SEO tricks (which is true, of course), and therefore we need to inject some human beings in there. In Jimmy’s view, Google also needs some competition and isn’t really getting much except from other gigantic Internet companies (Wired has a mini-Q&A with Jimmy on the search project here).
As Mike Arrington notes, we will see whether social search actually does do a better job than regular search. But the interesting thing to me about the Wikia Search is that it is so clearly modelled after Facebook. Is that now the de facto model for a social networking site? Not that there’s anything wrong with Facebook (other than the whole walled garden thing).
It just seems like everyone wants to be Facebook now. Google and Yahoo want to make their email clients into Facebook, LinkedIn wants to be Facebook — I guess that’s not surprising when the site just pulled in $240-million for less than 2 per cent of the company. It seems that being Facebook is a pretty good thing to be right now.