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Wikia Search goes live

Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, has publicly launched Wikia Search, a new open-source search engine. The search engine is operated by Wikia, a for-profit company also co-founded by Wales. The company has no relation to Wikipedia. Wales talked to DMNews about his plans for the operation.

“We’ve been in private pre-alpha for a couple of weeks now,” Wales said on Friday. The project has been in the works for the past year. “The concept here is to build a freely licensed, completely open and transparent, community-driven search engine.”

Wales estimated that Wikia Search will take a minimum of two years to reach industry standard quality. “We’ll have to see how it goes,” he said.

Starting today, the search engine will be accessible from www.wikia.com. Those who want to be more involved in the project can sign up and get an account, Wales said. Through the account, people will have access to what will look like a social networking site.

“You can do things like link to your friends, befriend people, upload pictures, send messages to people, fill out a profile,” Wales said. Based on the key words listed in people’s profiles, they will be associated with others who are interested in the same topics.

On the search results page, there will be a couple of major ways that people will be able to start participating immediately, Wales said. First, there will be a “mini-article” of a few sentences at the top of the page that people can edit in a “pure wiki way,” he said. For every search term there will be a basic statement describing the term or offering facts about that term, and maybe an image. “It’s very open ended,” Wales said. “Users will be able to use it for whatever they want.”

There will also be algorithmic search results on the page, which participants will be able to rank—from one to five—on relevancy and quality. “All that data will then be used to feed back into algorithm to improve the search result on the next update of the index,” Wales said. The rankings will be accessible to the public, so they’ll be able to see what people are doing. “That enables the community to have the kind of feedback mechanism that they need in order to monitor the site,” he said.

The engine is based on the following four organizing principles: transparency, community, quality and privacy, Wales said. The Internet was initially built on principles of open standards and transparency. However, for a long time, search algorithms have been encrypted and nobody understands how or why search results are given in the order that they are given, he said. “The important thing is that the users have control of their own information,” Wales said. “Transparency and privacy go hand and hand.”

Wales said that he plans to store search data for only a very short period of time. “A day or something to process the logs for statistical purposes, and to analyze security and things like that,” he said. “There’s no interest in holding years and years of user date.” If in the future, this policy were to change, then it would be strictly opt in. “You would be able to choose to participate,” he said.

“Search is one of the most powerful editorial functions in our society today, and we should really demand that it be done in an open and transparent way,” he said. “So the project is really a bit of a political statement by me about what we should all be looking for in an open society and an open Internet.”

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