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A New Twist on Human Powered Search

Posted on 7.29.2007

Human-powered search, where search results are determined and refined not by computerized algortihms but by people, has generated some buzz lately, including the release of Jason Calacanis' brainchild Mahalo and other, more established systems such as ChaCha and Acoona. Now, Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia has ideas on a new approach to human-powered search, and envisions a rival to Google and Yahoo.

"If we can get good quality search results, I think it will really change the balance of power from the search companies back to the publishers," said Wales. Wales is chairman of Wikia, a service that has helped set up thousands of Wikipedia-style sites on the Web. Wikia recently acquired Grub, a Web crawler to help with the project. The new Wikia search service will combine computer algorithms and human-powered search - the human element will help refine results of search terms that could have multiple meanings. Unlike Google, where search algortihms are a highly secretive formula, Wikia plans to open Grub to developers for improvements or to incorporate the crawler on other sites.

Wikipedia is under constant fire as to the validity of the information presented. It's easy to see that a Web crawler indexing thousands of wiki-style sites will face the same challenge. And as developers will have the option to tweak the search service, there will certainly be concerns of devlopers "gaming" the system to serve their own interests. Even so, the concept of the community shaping search results rather than one central authority is very interesting.

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