Internet Evolution spoke with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, about his latest project, Wikia Search, the future of search online, what's next for Wikipedia, and how -- if ever -- a search engine will defeat Google (Nasdaq: GOOG).
Internet Evolution: Tell me about Wikia Search. What's this all about? What are your goals?
Jimmy Wales: Well, the basic concept of the search engine project is to create a free-license search engine with all open-source software and to try to do it in a way that's consistent with public participation values that I believe in. So the idea, in part, is to look at all the editorial decisions that might be made and push those out. So right now we're in alpha phase and we're just about to release version 2 alpha, in our first major revision since the launch. That'll be the next month or two... I'm not exactly sure when.
I guess the main thing that got me interested in this is just seeing the growth... Basically what we're seeing right now is the quality of search results from Google, Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO), and Ask are all very similar. Whenever I see something like that I begin to think that this is within striking distance of open-source software. I just think it’s a really cool concept to say let's push this open-source effort forward so that we can have a much better opportunity for lots and lots of innovation to go on around search.
IE: What are you doing differently with Wikia Search than the other emerging human-powered search engines, and why?
Wales: The number one differentiator is we're doing it all in an open-source way... so it's very open and public. A lot of people are doing, you know, human-powered this and that, but they're doing it under a proprietary model. That's very different from us.
IE: Now that you're a few months into it, do you think Wikia Search will be a "Google killer," as originally intended?
Wales: Well, I never said that or thought that... I've joked about it just because everybody jokes about it. But, no... I think what's interesting about it is that Google's business model is matching advertisements to user behavior online. And search is part of their brand image but search is just one of the services they offer, it's not really their business.
The big threat to Google's business in the long run is the next Google. In other words, another proprietary search engine that comes along and takes away a dominant market share and therefore takes away the advertising marketplace.
IE: When Wikia Search first launched, it got some negative reviews. What has happened since with regard to changes and improvements?
Wales: We're going to be releasing version 2 soon, in the next month or two. We think at least the reviews are likely to be along the lines of "Gee, it doesn't suck as much as it used to." [laughs] This is how I cheered myself up when I saw the reviews, it was like
at least the next round will say it's not as bad as it was. We've got a lot of stuff coming out, but we're not promising that version 2 is going to be earth-shattering in terms of the quality of the search results. It is really fascinating in terms of the features we're putting out.
IE: Any features you can tell me about?
Wales: Oh yeah, sure... With one click, you can delete a URL, add a URL. I think the annotation feature is probably the coolest. This is where you can get a preview of the Website and you can click on something there and add it to the search results. You can get a little quote, take a picture, whatever, in your browser, with just some clicking around. That's really kind of fun and cool.
IE: In a poll on Internet Evolution, a little more than half of our readers said they would abandon Google in favor of Wikia Search. Have you started to see this great shift?
Wales: No, no. Definitely not yet. We're such an alpha project that we're basically building the software right now. What we have up is basically demo index. And I think by version 2 we hope the index will be a little bit better than it has been, but it's really pretty bad. That's not really our focus at the moment. Our focus at the moment is building the tools for our community collaboration and sort of building the infrastructure behind it right now. But we're a long way from being what I would even call a usable data stage.
IE: What is the search of the future, human-powered search, semantic search, or something we haven't discovered yet?
Wales: I think it makes sense for humans to do what humans do well and for computers to do what computers do well. Certainly, the kinds of things that computers do well are sift through massive quantities of data and apply algorithms to that data. The kind of thing humans do well is make editorial judgments, and computers are really quite awful at that... That broad statement, which doesn't say very much in and of itself, is nevertheless quite important. For each step of the process you need to say, "Would it be useful for a human to do this or would it be a waste of a human's time?"
IE: With projects like Wikipedia and Wikia Search, how can you effectively monitor and get rid of spam?
Wales: I think it's a classic kind of social question. We have to deal with people who are making bad edits at various times. This is an old question now for wikis. We actually do have an understanding of how this works, so in our system, we're going to have a social network that will give a measure of trust and that's... well... we don't know exactly how we're going to do it. The rough answer is, well, you ban people if they don't behave themselves. So it's as simple as that, and it's up to the community to figure that out.
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