When you launch a new search engine, admitting defeat at the outset isn’t exactly a promising start. Jimmy Wales founder of Wikia Search–which launches today–did just that.
“We want to make it really clear that when people arrive and do searches, they should not expect to find a Google killer,” Mr. Wales told the New York Times.
Hmm, not exactly the statement of faith I’d want to make when launching a new product. Sure, Wikia Search may technically be in “alpha”–what happens when that gets exhausted by start-ups, will we have to invent a new Greek letter?–but do you really want the media (and users) to form a negative sentiment before even giving Wikia a chance to impress?
Judging by early reviews, Wikia is living up to Wales’ expectactions. TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington–the bestower of all tech reputations–isn’t exactly impressed with the launch.
“…it may be one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had the displeasure of reviewing.”
Makes you want to rush over there and test it out, doesn’t it?
Still, the teething problems Wikia faces now will be nothing compared to the onslaught it will face, should it reach any level of success–the kind measured by market share, not self-righteous satisfaction that your search engine is built by the people, for the people.
SEOs Will Game Wikia Search
If Jimmy Wales thought the Wikipedia-gaming by search engine optimizers was a pain in the ass, their efforts will feeling like a welcomed pat on the derrière compared to the kick up the butt they’ll provide, once they start figuring out the inner-workings of Wikia’s algorithm.
Like other search engines and sites that rely on the so-called “wisdom of crowds,” the Wikia search engine is likely to be susceptible to people who try to game the system, by, for example, seeking to advance the ranking of their own site. Mr. Wales said Wikia would attempt to “block them, ban them, delete their stuff,” just as other wiki projects do.
“Attempt” is the key word here. Even the mighty Google has a hard time keeping the blackest of hats under control–and their algo doesn’t encourage the input of others like Wikia’s does. Likewise, when SEOs tried to game Wikipedia, it was in an effort to obtain some valuable links that would help them with Google–Wikipedia played a secondary role to their main goal. If Wikia achieves any measurable market share, it’s going to face a direct onslaught–something that might be hard to battle, when you have such an open-door policy.
And, in case you think I’m exaggerating the danger here, it’s already started–and you’ll never guess who’s first to try and pick apart the Wikia algorithm. Google’s own Matt Cutts!
It’s very early days for Wikia. I’m not about to tell you that it will face certain doom–despite my headline–but I’m not convinced that Wikia has a model that can be sustained, once it gets beyond the market share of, say, Ask.com. Still, Jimmy Wales is smart guy, and my track record of predicting failure isn’t always correct–Mahalo appears to be doing well, despite my concerns–but Wikia will at some point play a very challenging game of SEO chess. The “black” players are very adept at the game, let’s hope Wikipedia taught Wales how to defend from a check-mate.