I found this arrangement in my feed reader mildly amusing this morning: Fred Wilson's post on Mahalo.com directly above a post by Brad Feld entitled "The Computer Should Be Doing the Work for Us". (They are unrelated entries).

Mahalo.com is, of course, a people-powered search engine that Jason Calacanis publicly unveiled yesterday (no longer "Project X"). I'll be honest: when I first saw that Jason announced a "people-powered search engine", I was underwhelmed. But the more I think about it, he may really be on to something.

If you listen to CalacanisCast or read his blog, you'll know Jason has more than a slight obsession with Wikipedia. I'm certainly not the only one who noticed that Mahalo pages resemble Wikipedia entries more than they do Google results. And according to Dan Farber:

Calacanis compared Mahalo to Wikipedia, which he said sucked in the first few years and then took off in year four or five. In the first few years, Mahalo will get to 25,000 search terms and then go into maintenance mode, he said. “We can help to dictate good behavior on the Web,” Calacanis added, citing sites with spam that would not be selected by editors for inclusion in the directory pages.

Jason says he wants to "combine Wikipedia, Weblogs Inc, and Google". Each of these models have their pros and cons. An algorithm-driven site like Google is going to scale relatively easily and cheaply but is always going to face people trying to game the system. An open-source community like Wikipedia (or say Digg) takes care of a lot of those spam problems, but the network effect can be very difficult to achieve and (especially in the beginning) may suffer from quality issues. A paid editorial staff such as Weblogs Inc. or Mahalo will address both the spam and difficulty of seeding the community, but quite simply will never scale close to levels achievable with the first two.

With Netscape, Jason combined a Digg-style community with editorial oversight. This strikes me as the next evolution of that model, applying it to a broader problem than just news. In other words, it probably isn't a coincidence that C.K. Sample, the former managing editor and then director of Netscape, is now the chief editor at Mahalo.

It's an ambitious undertaking, but the successful combination of an algorithmic search engine with crowdsourcing and editorial oversight would be revolutionary indeed. It will be interesting to see what happens here - I'll certainly be watching closely.


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