Wikia Search is a hybrid Google plus Wikipedia, mixing search with social networking, but without the succinctness of either.
As a search engine, Wikia Search delivers results that are too much spam and not enough specificity. It is unfair, perhaps, to compare its search results to those of Google or Yahoo, whose engineers have had years more experience and tons more cash to throw at search algorithms. Yet the comparison will be made. A better yardstick would be Mahalo, a combination search engine/social network website more closely matching Wales’ description of his offering.
(Note: I intended to present a comparison of actual Wikia Search results to those of Google and Mahalo, but unfortunately Wikia Search became non-responsive as I was gathering screenshots. I’ll do the comparison later.)
The premise (and promise) of Wikia Search is that users will improve search quality by ranking the relevance of individual search result entries and contributing Wikipedia-type “Mini Articles” about the search topic. As Wikia Search says:
“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…”
Users can rank the relevancy of each citation returned by a search query by clicking on a typical array of five rating stars. Unfortunately, the ranking mechanism was not yet working when I tried it.
Searchers can also contribute to search results through the “Mini Article” feature that apparently will appear at the top of all search results. None of the search terms I entered produced a “Mini Article”.
In addition, searchers are invited to join a “discussion” about the search topic. None of the terms I entered had been “dicussed”.
Although not required to perform a search, visitors are invited to “join” Wikia Search. Some of the “user feedback” mechanisms are open to non-members, but the site is structured to be a “social network” based on the common interests of its members, apparently as expressed by the search terms they enter.
I am not convinced that a “social network” needs or wants to be constructed around search. The early success of Google’s search was due in large part to its uncluttered, direct-to-the-point search results page. Do I really want to be presented with the mug shots of hundreds of web programmers when I am looking for documentation for a specific jQuery plugin? The mind reels…
And while the concept of improving search results through user ranking is intriguing, who ranks the rankers for their expertise and impartiality? Better results can be obtained by searching Delicious.com’s bookmarks for links selected by people who found them valuable enough to save for later reference. (Here’s my “jquery+plugins” bookmarks as an example.)
It is easy to dismiss Wikia Search as just another attempt to exploit the latest Web buzz, especially in the first few hours of its alpha release. But despite my own cloudiness on “search” plus “social”, I think Jimmie Wales and crew might be able to morph Wikia Search into something quite useful. Or at least interesting.