Jimmy Wales has announced that the open source Search Project, Wikia will finally open to public in coming January. The announcement is a crossfire as Wikia seeks to eat out of Google’s pie while the search giant itself seeks to grab Wikipedia’s share of attention with its Knol project.
The search front has hardly seen a big competition for several years. Google has been a clear leader followed by Yahoo, then Microsoft’s Live Search and then the plethora of other firms that take a nibble at the wide search market. Does Wikia have what it takes to dunk Google?
To answer that we need to first take it look at what Wikia has to offer. Many sites have gone on to call it human powered search and social search while it is actually an open search engine. While Digg and other social bookmarking sites let users only rate the articles, with the proprietary algorithm taking care of actual rankings, Wikia’s algorithm is going to be up and available for users to tweak. And while Mahalo, Cha-Cha and other such people powered sites let people actually sort content for relevance, Wikia is still as much about the algorithm as any other computational search engine.
Google has a lot riding on it in terms the investment made by marketers and publishers in Google’s AdSense service. In the search industry inertia of adoption is one big factor. Technology is not the only thing that matters. People don’t prefer to change habits.
Wikia’s major premise is transparency of search algorithm. While this might seem a valid argument (since we use so much information delivered via search, it makes sense to know the exact calculations that went into assessing the relevance of the links), open algorithms are an open invitation to manipulation. It is the very fact that the Google algorithm is not open to manipulation that sustains search based marketing.
Perhaps Google’s Knol project itself was played out to kill the major fuel to Wikia – Wikipedia. With the content already out there, Jimmy Wales’s focus may have been to capitalize on growing Wikia and Wikipedia in a web that moved out Google.
Wikia’s arsenal includes Grub, the company that makes distributes web crawlers, another essential component of the open search engine.
Rhetoric aside, Wikia is not expected to deliver immediate results. The search site will have to grow with its community and come to size. When it comes to search, there have been several great technologies but that alone seems insufficient to move users away from Google. While skeptics galore, it is going to be Wikia Vs Google (atleast round one) in 2008.