Web Tech: Cheap And Available

SANTA CLARA — Web 1.0, aka the dot-com boom, may not have been all about getting rich, but you had to be able to get your hands on millions to play. But the kind of Internet company described loosely as Web 2.0 can get by on a pittance — and that’s enabled a new kind of power-to-the-people effort.

“We’re a prebusiness model,” said Gil Penchina, CEO of Wikia. “We’ll find a way to make money, but at this point we’re not too worried about it.”

Wikia, co-founded by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, extends the wiki collaborative writing model, letting people create their own topics and contribute to others without the iron hand of editors.

Penchina, one of two keynoters at the Silicon Valley WebGuild’s Web 2.0 Conference and Expo today, said dirt cheap hardware combined with free open source software, let his company launch Wikia Search, a combination of social networking site and consumer-generated search, for around $250,000.

On Wikia Search, users can rank their search results in terms of relevance. Their evaluations are then fed back into the algorithm to improve the quality of information delivered.

Based on Grub search platform, Wikia Search is a distributed project it acquired and made open sourcelast July.

Participants can also download Grub and use their own computers to help build the search index. The goal is to make open both the algorithm and the way sites are crawled.

Marketers and advertisers constantly struggle with fine-tuning their appearance in commercial search results.

Aside from inexpensive hardware and software, endeavors such as Wikia Search also get a boost from the free labor of their users — as do all so-called social media sites. Instead of paying experts to decide what’s important or valuable and to develop content and services, companies can simply make content creation tools available and let anyone create.

To make sense of all this random cultural production, they also provide tools that let other users promote or bury the results.

To get users to do a decent job of this unpaid work, it’s important to offer value, Penchina said. The service profits by “leveraging people’s benefits,” he said.

That’s something Craigslist has done in spades. Although Craig Newmark insisted the company he founded wasn’t even Web 1.0, it’s arguably taken billions of dollars from print advertising by offering people the benefit of a free, person-to-person marketplace.

In fact, despite its assertively simple interface, Craigslist does include some Web 2.0 functionality: Anyone can post content including photos. Also, users can flag content as inappropriate.

Newmark said that by keeping the company small and private (except for a 25 percent stake owned by eBay), it can maintain its ideals.

“Somehow we built a culture of trust, because we honestly share the values of most people,” he told the audience. “We follow through on treating people well.”

While Craigslist is built on open source software, including and , Newmark said the company hasn’t released the applications to the community because it lacks the staff to handle it. Even if it did release the code, Newmark said he doubted other companies could integrate it into their operations, because most don’t have the necessary customer-service focus.

Newmark has often said he doesn’t need to make more money. In response to a question, he reiterated that, echoing Penchina’s indifference to the business model. When asked, “Where will your growth come from,” he replied, “We don’t know and don’t care. But we do have to be prepared for it.”

News Around the Web