Wikipedia’s Wales creates new search engine, threatens Google?

What are modern journalists smoking that they are covering such a fundamentally uninteresting tech story as the announcement of Wikiasari as if it’s the coming of the digital messiah or something? Let’s be candid: for all that his brainchild Wikipedia is cool, it’s also fundamentally flawed in many ways and suffers from a myriad of the exact problems you’d expect from a “wisdom of crowds” sort of solution.
Sample coverage: Australia, Business Standard, India, Sydney Morning Herald, BusinessWeek and CBC Toronto.
But the bigger problem is that Wikiasari just isn’t going to work, and here’s why…

Across my various sites, I see thousands of visitors every day, visitors who often arrive as the result of a search. But these aren’t just simple searches like “iPod help” or “blogging tips”, they’re quite complex and involved, often five words or more. Searches like “ipod will not shut off”, “how do i download dvds to my pc laptop” or similar. As demonstrated by data mining tools like HitTail, few searches are created equal and Web users are gaining in sophistication and learning that more words yields much better search results than less words.
Meanwhile, Amazon (Nasdaq:AMZN), with its failed A9 search engine, is ponying up money to see if Jimmy Wales can create a search engine based on community input that is competitive with the Big Search Engine Firms, namely Google (Nasdaq:GOOG), Yahoo (Nasdaq:YHOO) and MSN Live (Nasdaq: MSFT).
It ain’t going to happen, though, and it has nothing to do with how good Wikiasari might be at the end of the day. It’s all about momentum, and I’m baffled that the many, many journalists who are covering this story don’t seem to get it.
As I explained to a reporter just a few days ago:
“The interesting issue that you need to consider with your piece isn’t whether someone has the gumption to say “I’m going to compete with Google”, but whether the market really cares. In my estimation as someone who follows the search engine industry, there’s a fundamental flaw in this new launch: that people will actually switch. In fact, my belief – based on talking to thousands of Internet users – is that the only time someone switches search engines is when their current system begins to fail them, or when their tools switch (IE7 switching everyone to MSN Live, for example).
Far from being able to “steal market share” from Google, the reality will be that it’ll only be if Google fails to produce good search results that another firm will even have a ghost of a chance of succeeding…”
The truth is, Jimmy Wales might well produce an amazing search engine (which I doubt) and that the so-called wisdom of crowds can override the sneaky efforts of spammers and commercial Web users who have basically killed sites like DMOZ, but even then, it won’t matter unless Google stumbles terribly.
Oh, and if they do, there’s a small group up in Redmond (e.g., Microsoft (Nasdaq:MSFT) working like mad to create a competitive search engine too, probably something to keep in mind if you’re thinking about going after the search engine space online.
And, finally, Web-based search engines aren’t interesting in the future anyway. What’s going to be interesting is who cracks the mobile phone search nut properly. Mobile devices are the wave of the future, not Web browsers per se. Just as we’ll see “blogging” go away, so will we also see Web browsing go away as the Internet becomes more and more tightly integrated into your daily computing experience.

5 comments on “Wikipedia’s Wales creates new search engine, threatens Google?

  1. You’re right, a human-powered search site can’t compete on the same level as an engine powered by a robot in terms of the breadth of topics/keyword phrases that are covered. I read something a while back that a large percentage (maybe 30%?) of searches on Google are for keyword phrases that had never been searched for before. So if Wikiasari intends to compete that way, it will lose.
    However, that doesn’t mean a human-powered search site can’t offer advantages if its goal is to complement the search engines. If a human-powered search site can’t do what Google does, it’s also true that Google can’t do what humans can do, either. So there can be value in the human-powered approach.
    I’ve thought a lot about this because my company is already building a human-powered search site called Bessed. Our biggest issue is scalability, our biggest advantage is better, spam-free results (plus the opportunity for visitors to suggest additions/subtactions to search results).
    I wrote a longer piece on the topic of Wikiasari’s chances for success here.

  2. Hmmmm….quite interesting.
    I had thought that Search Engines were pretty much game over, Google won.
    There have been a few new search engines. Seems to me the primary funding source for these new search engines is click fraud. (OK…just my little honeypot, but that has been my impression.)
    My impression on why this kind of thing would never work, was that sure, you can get a lot of people to author, write code, evaluate, etc for free, but you need a lot more than that to make a search engine. Specifically you need a lot of cash to make a large data center, tons of hardware, and just think about those power consumption billboards.
    So if these folks actually have a human powered, free content model, but large investors to power the back end, that is interesting. But curious as to how those large investors would make money on the deal. Or, stated another way, how do you get human contributors to help a new venture that will pay off for the money folks. Anybody seen how Snap is doing? They seem to have some neat ideas, such as giving away Snap Preview, but don’t know how that has translated to revenue or percent of search for them.

  3. It’s precisely because Google is automated – and clean, plain, uncluttered, predictable, etc. – that it will have the advantage over a human-driven search engines, which, I would be willing to bet, would complicate and sensationalize the search process.
    I find it fascinating that the media is so hungry for the blood of Google.

  4. Hmmm…here are some benefits I see with Wikipedia:
    The articles are fairly in-depth.
    The articles reference other links on the web, some of which would probably be included in Google’s results.
    Does Wikipedia/Wikiasarihave issues? Certainly. But I think that it has proven to be a fairly reliable source for general information by many measures, and I think that having some “human” element to search results is far more beneficial than an algorithm.

  5. The whole Wikipedia concept is fatally flawed. The notion that one can produce an authoritative encyclopedia without any kind of editorial control is patently ridiculous.
    There is a far greater and more insidious threat to Wikipedia than simple character assassination or falsehood. It can broadly be labelled �infomercial content� (i.e. content that purports to be informative but has a commercial bias). A good example is the entry on Barcelona (Spain). The whole article reads like a tourist brochure and any reference to the city�s pollution problems is swiftly removed by an army of self-appointed censors. There are strong indications that the Barcelona Tourist Board (or its army of acolytes) has effectively hijacked the site. This kind of thing is going to become more prevalent as Wikipedia becomes better known. Basically, there is nothing that can be done to stop this corporate take-over of Wikipedia without editorial control yet such control runs counter to the whole Wiki ethos.
    The idea that �a community of users� is going to apply some common sense criteria regarding content is a mistaken one. In the case of the Barcelona entry, the influence of Catalan/Spanish speakers on both content and style is all too evident. The locals seem eager to �sell� their city to the wider world and to show off their appalling English. Wikipedia not only lacks the control mechanisms to stop them, it also wilfully fails to recognize it has a serious problem. Given this depressing state of affairs, I see little threat to Google.

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