Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Wikia Search

So I guess in the last few days wikia has opened up an alpha version of their search page. I've been a wikipedia fan (both as a place to find information, and more philosophically), so I've been waiting to see what this (hyped) search would deliver. Reactions were mixed, from 'complete letdown' to 'more intrigued'. And, reading this article, I feel like I agree with the spirit of the wikia project, its openness and transparency (on a side note I tried to spread the good word on open source today. I was teaching LaTeX, and said that something being open source was like having the .tex file, instead of just the .pdf. Hopefully that helped).

That being said, I gave wikia a try. Now, I don't personally care about the social network aspect of it. And apparently to view the profiles that pop up when you do a search you are supposed to be registered, so whatever (maybe I'll hide that div with Ad-Block Plus). They do have a pretty decent interface, and I kinda like the dynamic fetching of the 'next 10 results' sort of thing. What I'm most excited about by this project is the idea of star rating search results (also a nicety of the interface for this feature), and having those ratings affect future results.

Now I clearly don't know much about all the bits currently relate, or how they will relate in the future. But I think it would be cool to see this star system used powerfully to determine customized search results. If it remembers my star ratings (after I register) for search terms, and compares that with other people's stars for the same(/similar) searches, then it can pair them up to help pick nice choices for later searches. That is, I search for A, and wikia notices that among other people who have searched for A I agree with person P on lots of other searches (not A). Then wikia looks at P's stars for the search on A, and boosts those results in my search.

Anyway, that all sounds complicated to set up, so maybe I'll let other people worry about it.

I suppose, since it is a search engine, I should talk about its current results for example searches. My initial (few searches) reaction is that these results are noticeably different (somehow) from the ones I might expect from google. But I think that's a good thing. Getting more, varied, results is a positive. My initial searches were math things, since that's what I generally search for anyway ('category theory').

Finally, I do wonder about 'gaming' the system. Apparently, Jimmy Wales thinks it won't be a problem. But with the indexing algorithm out in the open, it seems like people would be able to figure out ways, and do so more easily than in hidden systems (google's algorithm). Then again, this sounds vaguely along the lines of 'security through obscurity', which I don't buy in general.

Whatever, I'm happy to wait and see how it all plays out.

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