Wikia Search launches the hackable search engine

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' latest experiment: wiki-style search results. If you do a search on the engine and don't like the results, you'll be able to change them--for everybody.

This morning, Wikia is rolling out cool features on the controversial Wikia Search engine ( previous review ).

Starting today, if you do a search on the engine and don't like the results, you'll be able to change them. Your changes will apply not just for yourself, but rather for everybody.

The engine will launch with a smallish subset of machine-indexed pages, about 30 million, which will form the baseline that Wikia Search will let users go to town on. It's "hardly a full crawl" of the Web, admits Wikia (and Wikipedia) co-founder Jimmy Wales, but it's a start.

The editing you can do on Wikia Search is extensive. If you think a result on a search result page is too low or too high in the listings, you can influence its position by rating it. You can delete entries entirely or hand-write new ones. You can also rewrite the text of a search result, including adding code to the result (to insert, perhaps, a site-specific search, like Google's search-within-search).

Ah, that's better. I voted Webware to the top of the results for the query, "Webware." I'm about to do the same for "Web 2.0." Is this kosher? Take the poll at the end of this post.
For people accustomed to the cold (if hidden) logic of purely algorithmic search, these are scary options. It means that your search results are, in part, up to the whims of capricious or crazy humans, or perhaps people trying to game the system to promote some sites while burying competitors.

If you're lucky, though, your search result may be positively influenced by topic experts, your friends, or just other generally well-meaning people. And that's the hope. For the most part, this philosophy works for wikis. Wales obviously thinks it will work for search as well.

I hope it does. I like the idea of an open and transparent search engine. But I'm skeptical, for the sole reason that there's more at stake in search then there is on most wikis. How sites place on search engines has a material impact on how much money they make, so the more successful this engine is, the more people there will be trying to game this system.

To counter this, Wikia Search changes are all done all wiki-style. They're transparent, and they can be reverted by users. Hopefully that will offset the gaming of the system.

One variable that won't influence Wikia Search results: your social network. If your friends rate certain sites higher than the population at large, that fact won't be reflected in the results you get.

Wales said to me, regarding the concept of sorting results individually based on their social network (see Delver ), "I'm not convinced that it will be all that useful," but it could be a "piece of data we would use" in the future.

That's probably just as well; the concept of search results directly changeable by users will be weird enough for users to get a handle on.

Wales put a video demo together for Wikia Search. Click to view.

See also: Anoox.

 

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