Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Search Wikia to be the first real open source challenge to Google's hegemony

Information Week reports on Jimmy Wales' announcement of progress on Wikia Search, the new open-source search engine that will, he believes, launch its first beta in a couple of months....
He said search should be open, transparent, participatory, and democratic. He said Search Wikia would be free, "as in speech, not as in beer." Though Wales said, "I love Google," at least three times during his talk at NYU, he hopes to create something more meaningful, more transparent, and ultimately better than Google.

"People want to know how these searches are being determined," he said. "I love Google. I love Yahoo. I don't think they're doing anything evil."

Wales said he also loves the court system because people can go in and watch the proceedings. He wants to deliver the same transparency to search. Contributors will publish, test, research, and modify the algorithms.

Beginning with Lucene and Nutch (two open source and Java search engines based on the Apache Jakarta Project), programmers will be able to copy, modify, and redistribute code. Others can provide feedback. A search for Ford should yield Ford Motor Co., as the correct first answer, Wales said.

"After that, it's pure, editorial decision-making," he said.

Given the right people, this *could* help to refine and make search better. There are downsides though, in that entries could be left out of search for personal or "political" reasons. Thus is the nature of human endeavors.

Although I will say I put a certain degree of faith in human-edited aggregators for particular kinds of blog-search: most notably Placeblogger and BlogNetNews (hyperlocal and political blog searches.) But how people--who may have a special interest--might tweak certain algorithms....well....

I think it's worth a try though. Google's hegemony on search, and its cache'ing of information is also a bit disturbing--and much less transparent than what Wales is proposing.

It will be fun to watch what happens with Search Wikia--from how the algorithms develop to who it is who ends up propelling the positive changes. The human element, after all, is always the most fascinating...

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