Over a year ago, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales stated he was going to start a people-powered search engine. After a couple delays and a great deal of hype, Wikia Search launched its initial Alpha test earlier this morning.
While we generally do not cover search-engine start-ups, Jimmy Wales has a proven track record, is an open and genuinely nice fellow, and has effectively dealt with past public controversies with his integrity and credibility intact. He has already changed the face of the World Wide Web twice by creating collaborative products people love to use. If anyone is going to establish a search engine that could capture a slice of market share in 2008, Wales and Wikia are the group to watch.
Unfortunately, there is not much to see here at this point. Users are greeted with a sparse white screen showing a simple query box below the cute graphic of something resembling a smiling cloud or a very fluffy, self-satisfied pillow. In the upper right corner, two tabs prompt users to “Start a new account” or to “Login” to their existing account.
New accounts ask for a user-name and password, an email address and the user’s real name. Once an account is established, Wikia begins to ask for a good deal of personal information as if the user was setting up a social-network profile. Once that information is entered however, Wikia Search members are presented with a series of account options, tools and records that detail and enable their interaction with the search database.
According to its About page, “Wikia’s search engine concept is that of trusted user feedback from a community of users acting together in an open, transparent, public way. Of course, before we start, we have no user feedback data. So the results are pretty bad. But we expect them to improve rapidly in coming weeks, so please bookmark the site and return often.”
The basic concept is simple. Searchers are presented with a series of results grouped in the similar 1 – 10 format. At the lower right of each result, five stars allow users to rate each result. Those stars, the main-user feature at Wikia Search are not working as of this morning.
The other user-participation feature harks back to the Wikipedia model in which users are asked to enter and edit “Mini-Articles” that appear at the top of all search results. Mini-Articles contain short definitions, disambiguations, photos and alternative search suggestions noted as “See Also” listings. As of this morning, I was unable to find an example of a Mini-Article though they are likely to fill in sooner than later.
Over time, Wales hopes the rankings will be directly affected by the ratings of its users. He also hopes users will add their own thoughts through the mini-articles. At this time however, an outside observer can only hope the basic database grows quickly as the results offered by Wikia Search are slightly worse than “pretty bad”.
More information promised as we find out more about how (and if) Wikia Search works. In the meantime, welcome to the search space Jimmy Wales. You’ll know you are successful when the SEO community starts deconstructing your engine.