Wikia Search May Have Trouble Achieving Critical Mass

from the notability dept

Mathew Ingram notes that Jimmy Wales's company, Wikia, has unveiled a new version of its search engine. The basic premise of the search engine, allowing users to edit search results the way they can edit Wikipedia pages, is clever. But I think Wales is going to have difficult making the project successful. The fundamental problem, I think, is a matter of raw mathematics: there are far, far more potential web searches than there are pages in Wikipedia. Last month I critiqued the business model of Biographicon, a site that's attempting to create a Wikipedia-style page for everyone. I argued that they're likely to have trouble making it work because any given page is unlikely to have the critical mass of contributors necessary to make the wiki model work. I think Wikia's search engine is likely to suffer from an even more serious case of the same problem. Wikipedia achieves this critical mass by limiting itself to subjects that are "notable." But a search engine can't have those kinds of limits. People want a search engine to have good responses even for (maybe especially for) obscure searches. And by definition, it won't be possible to get a bunch of people to contribute to the page for an obscure search term.

Closely related is the problem of bias. Wikipedia strives to take a neutral point of view, presenting all viewpoints fairly and accurately without passing judgment on which one is correct. This often leads to pages being longer than they would otherwise be, but they tend to be reasonable representations of what various people think on the subject at hand. This approach won't really work with a search engine because people expect the most important search results to be at the top, and deciding which results are the most important is an intrinsically subjective decision. If Wikia's search engine ever became popular, it could be beset by edit wars that would make the infamous Danzig/Gdansk edit war look tame. Companies pay search engine optimization firms thousands of dollars to improve their Google ranks, a successful Wikia search would likely succumb to the same kinds of pressure, and the site appears to lack Wikipedia's well-defined procedures for resolving disputes.

Filed Under: search, user generated, wikia, wikis


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  1. identicon
    Joel Coehoorn, 30 Apr 2008 @ 1:15pm

    Hybrid

    A common problem with search engines is ambiguous terms. For example, if I search for 'Python' I might be looking for a snake or I might be looking for a programming language. A user-edited search could help solve this.

    I envision a hybrid system that has a Google-like engine under the hood. But if your search includes certain *notable* keywords or keyword combinations it could leverage it's users to first create a place where you tell the engine exactly what you mean by that term (if there's a conflict) and then rate pages that match user-selected results for your variety of that keyword as much more relevant.

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