The much-vaunted search engine from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Search Wikia, makes its official debut today. Many commentators believe that the open-source, community-driven search engine can disrupt and reshape the Google-dominated search market. UPDATE: Search Wikia slammed by bloggers.
But if you try Search Wikia today you shouldn't expect a Google killer just yet. The project is at a very early stage and will need participation from volunteers to grow and be refined, Wales said.
In that sense, Search Wikia is expected to develop in a similar fashion to Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia written and edited by a community of volunteer collaborators who have expanded it and improved it organically over the years.
"Search Wikia is an extremely alpha project. It's a project to build a search engine and not a full-fledged competitor to Google yet. We want to make sure people understand that it's in its very early days," Wales said.
Still, Wales fully expects Search Wikia to eventually be a better alternative to commercial search engines from the likes of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and Ask.com.
"I don't know how long it will take to reach industry-standard quality search results, but I'd say at least two years," he said.
People interested in volunteering will find a variety of options at Search Wikia, including working with the software to improve and extend it, as well as suggesting pages for the index and evaluating and rating search results.
Those who register to participate in the project will join a social-networking environment where they can have a list of friends, upload photos, build profiles and be notified of friends' actions.
Users of the search engine will be presented with what Wales calls a "mini article" at the top of the results list. This can be a photo, a text definition, an external link or whatever else has been determined is the best answer to that particular query.
Below the 'mini article' will be the list of results, picked from the Search Wikia index, which today will have anywhere between 50 million and 100 million web pages. Wales concedes that number is small, but said it will continue to grow over time.
Users will be able to rank the quality of individual search results, and Search Wikia will factor in that feedback when solving future queries. "That way, people will be able to influence the algorithmic search results," he said.
Those who try to abuse the system for, say, search-engine spamming purposes, are bound to be quickly noticed by administrators and other community members, and they will swiftly be blocked and banned, Wales said.
Initially, people will only be able to complete general web searches, but the plan is to add tabs for image and news searches later. Likewise, Search Wikia's index will only contain links to English-language websites at first, but more languages will be supported progressively.
"The goal is to be in as many languages as possible as fast as possible," Wales said.
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