Jimmy Wales has been promoting Wikia, his entry into the commercial search space, which boasts the catch-phrase “the search engine that will change everything”:
“Wikia Inc., the commercial counterpart to the non-profit Wikipedia, is aiming to take as much as 5 percent of the lucrative Internet search market… Describing the two Internet firms as “black boxes” that won’t disclose how they rank search results, Wales said collaborative search technology could transform the power structure of the Internet“.
The idea isn’t new, of course. DMOZ have long had the (now ironic) catch-phrase “Humans do it better”. That didn’t turn out to be true. A mix of human and machine evaluation (Google) produced a superior general search service.
However, the interesting part about Wikia, and the reason why I think Wikia has more chance of succeeding than any of the 100 alternative search engines, is that it is doing two things right: going niche using (a lot of) humans. Machines are good at evaluating huge datasets, humans less so. However, the further niche you go, the more subtlety and nuance is required – qualities which humans do better than machines, and where, I believe, humans can provide more value in terms of relevance.
“While Wikia gives away its tools free to users, the company requires that sites built with its resources link to Wikia.com, which makes money through advertising. Using the same root software as Wikipedia, Wikia is likely eventually to carry more articles than its counterpart, Wales said. Unlike the encyclopaedia, much of Wikia’s content is geared toward niche marketsâ€”a boon for readers obsessed with topics such as Star Wars films or trains“.
Will he get 5% of the search market?