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Mahalo - A Not-So-Simple Curiosity

Posted on 5.30.2007

Jason Calacanis' and Sequoia Capital's new brain child, Mahalo, is touted as the world's first human-powered search engine. Mahalo's developers scour the Web to build search results - so far, 4,000 of the most popular search terms are included, with the goal of 10,000 by the end of the year. Seemingly, the biggest selling point is hand-selected search results that are free of spam.

Aside from an awkward name (I've misspelled Mahalo twice already), first impressions are positive. Search results are categorized by the "Mahalo Top 7,"  there is a section with "Fast Facts," "Today's Top 20 Searches" and other, related and interesting information. Search results for Chicago Cubs, for example, lists the top 7 (including the official site, wikipedia entry, and some local coverage sites), Cubs management, current roster, news and gossip, photos, fansites, blogs and rivals, among others. It's quite an interesting and informative mix. The engine does a nice job handling typos as well.

Some other features include icons next to search results such as "Warning" (for a site with pop-ups), "Guide's Choice" (the favorite sites of the search result list builders) and "What is" (sites deemed useful for the user).

The usefullness of Mahalo for practical search is still up in the air. The site does return nice results but still has a long way to go. I could see it being a nice supplement to a user's daily search needs - there is plenty of good information when the search term is available and the results are relevant and spam-free, but the limiting characteristics of human-powered search will provide obstacles for the quick-access and comprehensive nature of an engine like Google. When a search term is not available (not yet indexed by the Search Guides) results are returned as suggested sites, then from Google and other search providers. The suggested results are questionable - a search for 17-year cicadas brought back sites on basketball stars Ben Wallace, Brandon Roy, Jason Kidd and a site for Cadillac.

Curiously, a search on the search engine Mahalo for "search engines" brings zero results.

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