Wikia Search bites the dust, fails as a Google alternative

Wikia Search, Jimmy Wales' long-shot attempt at disrupting Google's search-engine dominance, is closing today.

Wales, the Wikipedia founder, made the announcement in his blog, saying that Wikia Search, which launched in January 2008, failed to earn the expected levels of popularity.

"In a different economy, we would continue to fund Wikia Search indefinitely. It's something I care about deeply. I will return ... again and again in my career to search, either as an investor, a contributor, a donor, or a cheerleader," he wrote.

"But for now, we will be closing the doors on the Wikia Search project -- as of March 31, 2009 -- and will be redirecting and refocusing resources on other properties," he added.

With Wikia Search, Wales bet that a better mousetrap could be built in search and offer a credible alternative to Google.

His approach: an open-source, community-driven search engine. Anyone could add, delete and rate Web pages in its index. The engine was open for developers to build applications for it.

"It's all the classic things that we learned from the wiki model: basically putting all that editorial control into the hands of the community so that it's easier to do good than to do harm. That's the basic philosophy," he told IDG News Service in June of last year.

It's hard to pinpoint what went wrong with Wikia Search or what its failure reveals about the search market, said industry analyst Greg Sterling from Sterling Market Intelligence. "Considering that Wikipedia has been such a success, I expected higher participation in Wikia Search," he said.

It could be that while people see value in devoting time and effort to social media and social-networking sites, they may view search engines as more of a tool that offers a bridge to information, Sterling said. In other words: People see value in having a profile and a network of friends on Facebook, or in posting links to articles and comments in Digg, but not in helping to build a search engine index.

Another possibility is that most people are satisfied enough with Google and Yahoo and so don't feel compelled to participate in the creation of a new search engine, Sterling said. Or maybe it was just a good concept executed at a bad time, especially with the economic crisis forcing companies to be more selective about which projects they fund, he said.

Wikia Search is a project at Wikia Inc., a commercial, for-profit company that Wales founded. It operates independently of the Wikimedia Foundation, which oversees Wikipedia and was also founded by Wales.

At press time, Wikia Search's Web site was still available. Wales plans to focus Wikia's efforts on services that have gotten more traction, such as its question-and-answer site Wikianswers.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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