Space Ramblings

The Wikiperils of Wikisaria

The touting of Jimmy Wales’ new Wiki based Wikisaria search engine as a google killer is one of the incredibly oddest pieces of hype in the last few weeks alone, and this after Microsoft boasted that the Zune had met internal expectations

(those expectations being limited to the Zune,

1. Not Exploding and Killing Anyone,

2. Not Going Rabid and Turning into an MP3 Player with Limited Wireless Capability and a Taste for Human Flesh

3. Not Being Remembered by Anyone Including Its Purchasers)

Wikipedia has no doubt taken off, become a part of our culture, won a place in our hearts, replaced our long dead great-grandmothers etc. Google’s biggest flaw of course is the sheer inaccuracy of search results. Certainly I shouldn’t rank highly for some of the search terms I do and don’t for those I do. A google search these days is more like fishing in a harbor full of old boots, capsized boats and toxic waste spills. It takes a while to bring anything up and the odds aren’t good at it being edible. Worse yet google doesn’t seem to care much focusing instead of increasingly diverse and pointless projects. User participated search results on the one hand seem like they might improve the situation but on the other hand Google’s search results are already based on user participation.

Google’s search results have more to do with popularity and linking than relevance which has made it childishly easy to tamper with. Google not caring in the least has let the whole thing go on endlessly and corporate arrogance is never a pretty sight. A Wikisaria search engine might wake up Google a little and push it into fixing its search results before a search engine that actually delivers accurate search results does, something Ask.com is doing better and better though with the hopeless branding and marketing campaign and interface it isn’t seeing its share of users that it should.

But Wikipedia itself depends on a large user community and moderators, in other words an unpaid staff of millions, to keep it going. Wikisaria or whatever it’s called is going to need that plus. Your average wikipedia entry is relatively static compared to search engine results which exist in a constantly changing world.

The Wikipedia entry on Charles Lindbergh is only going to change so much. Even the wikipedia entry on Jamie Foxx will only require so many revisions. An encyclopedia, even a living one like wikipedia, will always be more static than a snapshot of search results which don’t collect factual environment but links. Wikipedia already manages links in its wiki entries but to get beyond just being a portal with a few carefully managed links, something Yahoo and every wannabe dot.com portal like Lycos and Hotbot had well back in the 90’s, they’ve actually got to manage the entire web.

Doing that takes a lot of people. Multiply users and you multiply disputes. Multiply disputes and you multiply mods and wikiwars and all the rest. And as a commercial project, Wikisaria may not be able to get away with living off the unpaid work of volunteers nearly as much. The Wiki name and Jimmy Wales and the hype will attract an initial bunch of users but they’ll have to draw large numbers of people from google in order to succeed. Wikipedia created its own niche really, Wikisaria may be a paradigm change (though it really isn’t) but it will still have to compete against a search engine market against the dominant google, the ascending Microsoft Live Search and the increasingly puglistic Ask.com. That means there’ll be a lot less time to work on getting it right. Your average user is not going to wait around for a search engine to work the way he or she wants it to. They’ll just go right back to the one they were using before and Wikisaria will become the Linux of internet search engine, a hobbyist’s fixation with limited real world value.

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