Hey, it’s not in beta — THAT’S different from Google. Wikia, the much-buzzed Google competitor, finally launched in alpha at the beginning of the week. Unfortunately, with the model that’s being used, the suck is built right in. The only thing that’s going to tell with this engine is time.
Instead of Wikia.com, the new search engine is available at http://alpha.search.wikia.com/ . If you go to the about page, you get an overview of the search engine and also the admission, “We are aware that the quality of the search results is low.” Um, yeah.
I started with a search for Hawaii. It’s a good example search because you can get all kinds of results but you can reasonably expect an official result as the top one. In Wikia’s case the first result is for The University of Hawaii’s athletic page. Not ideal but not awful. Awful is the fact that the third result had a very keyword-loaded description (and didn’t appear official at all), and the official state site comes in only after that. For experimental purposes, I also tried the “Strawberry Shortcake” test. The front page of the results appeared to be spam-free, but the ratio of 80s-cartoon-character-to-recipes was very high. (Using lowercase instead of capitalized in the search didn’t make any difference — I don’t think Wikia is case-sensitive.)
The idea with Wikia is that we, the users, are to give feedback on the search results we get — rating them 1 to 5 stars. With that in mind there’s a little set of stars next to each result and we’re encouraged to rank what we see. (When I tried to rank I got a popup that the stars were only there for testing and were not being kept permanently. When I tried it again a little later I didn’t get that popup. So I don’t know.) The theory is that eventually, given enough people and enough results, the search results will improve. Unfortunately, it’s just launched, there’s no huge amount of feedback driving results, and thus the suckage being built in and all.
Even if I were assured that my ranking counts, I would still be ambivalent about ranking results. Yes, hinky sites get one star. Official sites, for the most part, get five stars. But what about the ones in between? Every site I looked at to rank I kept thinking, “It depends.” It depends on why the a searcher was looking for “Hawaii”. It depends on why they were looking for Strawberry Shortcake. In addition to ranking individual results, Wikia invites you to create miniarticles to create definitions, clear up ambiguities, etc. but I don’t understand why you want to duplicate the effort of Wikipedia. Now, if you invited me to tag Wikipedia pages relevant to my search, I’d be all over that.
In addition to getting Web search results, you’re also given lists of Wikia users who match your search. For example, if I do a search for cow I get one user under the “People Matching “cow”” result list. But I get no information about that person, and I don’t get any reason as to why they match my search. I’m afraid I don’t understand the point.
I’m afraid Wikia left me not so much cold as bewildered. I didn’t understand the extra miniarticles, I didn’t know why Wikipedia wasn’t more closely integrated — I mean, so many people are working on it, why not do some crossreferencing? — I didn’t know why I got one user result for cow, I didn’t know if my rankings were accepted or not, I didn’t know what evaluation process I should be performing to do the rankings in the first place — eventually it got all philosophical and I began wondering why we were all here to begin with. (Thankfully this is ResearchBuzz, not ExistentialismBuzz.)
I’m going to go back and work with it more later in an attempt to Get It.