Wikia search at NYC CC Salon

24 07 2008

I was briefly able to drop in on last night’s Creative Commons Salon in the West Village – featuring “free as in beer beer.” Got to see the guys from Wikia Search talk about what they’re up to. Jimmy Wales was there too. A couple of interesting notes about the Wikia project:

They hope users will install their crawler — much like the SETI at home project, they’re hoping users will donate CPU cycles during machine downtime. Sounds plausible.

They’re deeply committed to explicit human feedback as an input to search rankings — much like the new Google search interface that’s been showing up over the last couple of weeks.

And privacy is their big competitive advantage. They’re committed to keeping users’ search history totally private. If Wikia was, say, 20% less useful than Google, I’d switch anyway, just for privacy reasons.

The first question asked after their presentation was the obvious one, about gaming. The answer *sounds* nice: it’s basically the Wikipedia philosophy, which is: there’s no point in engineering to solve a problem until it appears. So when gaming becomes a problem, they’ll engineer their way out of it. Not really an answer to the problem, but a meta-answer, or something.

That got me thinking about how gaming is currently managed by the big search engines. To a large degree, they count on “accuracy through obscurity” — we just don’t know exactly how Google’s page rank algorithm works, and they change it with some frequency, and that makes gaming much harder. Given the essentially open source nature of Wikia’s algorithm, that weapon against gamers is unavailable. So what’s left?

Humans.

Anyway, more power to the Wikia guys. I love the idea, particularly for the privacy.