When the guy behind Wikipedia launches a search engine, the world is going to watch. And watch they did when Jimmy Wales unveiled Search Wikia in January — perhaps a little too closely. I say that because while some were expecting to see a “Google-killer“, the site we saw was a bare-bones engine in the very early alpha testing stage.

But now, it’s getting closer.

I got a chance to play with some of the upcoming changes coming to Search Wikia. Those hoping for a more Wikipedia-style approach to search results will not be disappointed. You can test some of these features out for yourself at this link, but be forewarned that this is a testing site that may experience performance delays and bugs.

The main page is still something you’d expect on any engine, a search box. It’s after the query however that things get interesting. On hover of each result returned you have the option to ‘Edit’, ‘Spotlight’, ‘Comment’ or ‘Delete’ the item. Lets run down these options:

Edit: As you’d expect, you click this and you can directly edit both the title of the result and the paragraph explanation that resides under it.

Spotlight: Allows you to highlight one result on a page, giving it a yellow background to make it stand out.

Comment: You can leave messages under every result to discuss that items/result. You can also leave comments about other comments.

Delete: You can remove any result you feel doesn’t fit the query.

All of these changes are saved and shown in the ‘Result History’ area on the site (which has it’s own RSS feed – nice). If you are not logged in, your IP address is the unique identifier to show who has changed what — just as with Wikipedia.

One of the main problems people had with the initial launch of Search Wikia is that the search results simply weren’t up to snuff. While they company is quick to note that that’s probably still the case in this testing phase, just how much results improve after users edit them will be a test of the entire concept.

Editing links is one thing, but users can also submit their own. Adding related searches is also as easy as clinking the link to do so and typing in a relevant word.

Mahalo is a people-powered search site that has been rising in popularity. Its results return static pages with multiple links on a topic. While anyone can submit a link to include on these pages, and Mahalo has been encouraging this and more with its newer social tools, the pages are still for the most part built by one person — a Mahalo employee. Mahalo also monitors each link submitted to make sure it is not spam. [Full disclosure: I have done some work for Mahalo]

Search Wikia is attempting to take a more community-centric approach — not surprising given Wikipedia’s nature. You have a page of search results just as you would see on Google, but anyone in the world can edit and manipulate those results on-the-fly.

The obvious concern here is spam, gaming and the simple inaccuracies of such a system. The same issues arise from time to time on Wikipedia, but a group of users committed to the cause always seem to sort these things out. The fact that anyone can just as easily delete an item as create one, and that all of this activity is recorded in logs, make this possible.

Search Wikia is still in its alpha testing phase, and as such things are still a bit rough around the edges. However, with this update we are finally getting a glimpse of Wales’ vision for the future of search. It is very promising. Test it out for yourselves.

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