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Wikia Search Gets First Major Upgrade

Wikia Search, the open source search engine Wikia Inc. rolled out in January, is set for a significant upgrade today, adding a lengthy feature set aimed at bringing the project closer to its goal of creating a human-powered alternative to the algorithm-driven search engines currently dominating the market.

Wikia Inc. is the for-profit venture chaired by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who launched the search engine project declaring that the current form of search, where users have no visibility into how pages are ranked, was broken. Wikipedia is run under the auspices of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation.

From the beginning, Wales has been clear that he did not expect Wikia Search to knock Google from its perch atop the search market right away. He acknowledged that it would take time to build a good search engine, candidly admitting that the initial quality of the results was quite poor.

"I think they're kind of okay now, and that's saying something because I'm pretty strict on what constitutes good search results," Wales said of the new features in an interview with InternetNews.com. "We're definitely not to industry-standard quality, but we're usable now."

Now, registered users will be able to directly edit the search results, including their titles and summaries, with their edits immediately viewable to the community. Then, too, users will be able to delete or hide any results that they don't find relevant.

Just as with Wikipedia entries, the edits a user makes to search results will be subject to review by an editorial board.

Through a star-based rating system, users will be able to vote up or down certain search results based on their relevance to the query, which will gradually reshape the order of the page rankings.

Wales said that Wikia Search has so far indexed about 30 million pages. Like Mahalo, another community-inspired search engine, Wikia Search is only indexing whitelisted pages, filtering out junk sites to ensure that the search engine only delivers high-quality results.

Wikia Search counts about 20,000 members who have signed up and created profiles. To date, their work has produced about 25,000 mini articles that accompany the results.

The new features also include an AJAX-powered interface through which people will be able to pull in data from other sites, such as movie information from imdb.com to augment a search for theater showtimes.

Looking ahead, Wales said that Wikia Search is planning an API to enable developers to create more sophisticated applications, but that the tie-in to data from external sites rolling out today is simple enough that anyone can work with it.

The revamped Wikia Search page will also offer one-click links to search results on Google, Yahoo and the other major search engines, enabling a comparison between the open source search engine and its larger and more opaque competitors.

By opening its own search platform to developers, Yahoo has actually been moving in a similar direction as Wales' venture. Yahoo is billing its SearchMonkey initiative as the next generation of search by allowing developers the ability to edit and annotate results.

But unlike Wikia Search, where users' voting will affect results rankings, the underlying algorithm that produces page rankings in Yahoo's search engine is not changing through its developer initiative.

Other additions to Wikia Search include a retooled profile page, where people can keep track of changes via a news feed, and an improved messaging function.