Wikia will release a new search engine early next year according to an interview with Jimmy Wales in today’s Times of London. The new Wikia search engine project is named Wikiasari and will apply wisdom of the crowds features to search engine results, letting individual users rank sources of information and their relevancy to a particular query.
Of course the article takes a “gunning for Google” angle, citing the PageRank algorithm used since Google’s was founded in 1998. Search engines grow over time, and incorporate multiple ranking factors beyond the math of inbound links and source authority. Google (synonym for big search engine for simplicity’s sake) can assign domains of trust to highlight trusted content beyond their PageRank calculation. The Mayo Clinic might be a trusted source of health news. Government domains could be an authority for government searches. External links found in Wikipedia could carry additional weights as curated sources.
Google also incorporates click through rates into its advertising algorithms, relying on the preferences of a crowd to select the most relevant result. Google presents a searcher with a title, contextual summary, and domain name to help him or her select the result best matching their query. Click-through tracking can be grouped on a personal level (search results you previously visited), geographic level (popular in San Francisco), network-specific (other people on your corporate network liked these results), within an affinity group (search originates at Sierra Club or through a Google Co-op group), and much much more.
Wikia and its investor Amazon may have an edge incorporating a user’s purchase history, news preferences, and other profiling data into each search. You could place a set of eyes on the billions of web pages currently in existence, hoping that new stem cell review center achieves appropriate annotations for discovery, but I’m skeptical. Sites such as Google, Yahoo!, and Windows Live already have the crowds clicking on search results every day, submitting bookmarks, and, in some cases, flagging spam. Wikia would need a critical mass of users to maintain a useful search index and query analyzer to supply Britney Spears’ fans, medical research, and the many many other search queries submitted every day. The same same search engine pickpockets wandering through Google’s search index will continue to target any significant source of traffic and unlike Wikipedia, you can’t just lock down a contested (or heavily profitable) area and still maintain balance.