Many of us have waited a year as the Jimmy Wales hype machine promised a human powered search engine that could take on Google. Tonight that search engine launched at alpha.search.wikia.com, and it may be one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had the displeasure of reviewing.
First of all, it’s barely a search engine at all. It’s based on the open source Nutch software and contains an index of web pages created by Grub (a company Wikia acquired last year). The search results are poor and thin, as would be expected if not for the huge expectations that have been set. Absolutely no one is going to use this to search the web, until (and if) it is greatly improved.
But beyond the poor search results, there is really no “human” element to the engine at all. That functionality will come later, says Wikia CEO Gil Penchina. For now, users can add keywords to their profile – things that they are interested in, etc. When a search is conducted by others on those terms, the user’s picture is shown in the right hand column. Eventually, users will be able to edit and improve results for searches they are interested in. But currently, all users can do is add keywords to their profile that they might someday be interested in, and/or contribute to a “mini-article” that appears at the top of search results for queries (example).
And about those profiles. As anticipated, Wikia Search is yet another social network. User profiles include basic elements like a photo, adding friends, and information about interests and skills. And in a direct rip off of Facebook, Wikia Search profiles contain an activity stream of stuff you and your friends have been up to over the recent past.
Wikia search would be a disappointment even without the massive hype we’ve had to endure. And taking that hype into account, this product is an inexcusable waste of time.
To be fair, CEO Gil Penchina warned me it wouldn’t be a great product at launch. It’s simply a proof of concept of what can be created using open source software and little money, he says. Fair enough. But it’s time for Wales to be quiet, let this thing evolve or not, and eventually let the software do the talking. Eventually Wikia will make the index available to third parties. But the index needs to be reasonably decent before anyone will want it. Wikia has a long way to go to get there.
Update: Good debate in the comments below, including a couple from Jimmy Wales.