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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Jimmy Wales puts Wikia Search to bed

Wikia SearchImage via Wikipedia
Just as Microsoft announced the closure of its once groundbreaking Encarta encyclopaedia, it seems that Jimmy Wales is giving up on Wikia Search, a user-generated search engine that was once touted as a "Google killer" - sadly its ambitious moniker turned against it somewhat after a disappointing release in January 2008.
In a post on his personal blog yesterday, Wales - founder of the Encarta-killing Wikipedia - claimed that Wikia Search had "not been enjoying the kind of success that we had hoped" and would be closing its doors as of March 31, 2009. He said: "In a different economy, we could continue to fund Wikia Search indefinitely. It's something I care about deeply. I will return to again and again in my career to search, either as an investor, a contributor, a donor, or a cheerleader."
Wikia Search was long-rumoured before its eventual release 15 months ago but any anticipation that had been building up amongst search enthusiasts was swiftly killed by high-profile criticism. For instance, following its release, Michael Arrington, founder of influential tech blog TechCrunch, wrote that Wikia Search was "one of the biggest disappointments I've had the displeasure of reviewing" and called it "barely a search engine at all".
More sympathetic analyses - such as that from bigmouthmedia, for instance - recognised that the premise of a human-ranked search engine required users to participate in order to build up a repertoire of impressive results, so it wasn't surprising that Wikia Search appeared flimsy at launch. However, with only 10,000 unique users a month for the last six months, it seems that the project's poor start hampered its success from the outset.
Ultimately, it seems that it was not the idea behind Wikia Search that led it to its death but Wales' inability to afford to give the project any more time to succeed in the current economic climate. In fact, the launch of Google's SearchWiki feature in November last year seems to indicate that there is an appetite for human prioritisation and customisation of search results.
On his blog, Wales said that he would be "re-directing and refocusing resources on other Wikia.com properties, especially on Wikianswers", which he claims has seen "tremendous growth" since its February re-launch. But if new search engine players are to learn anything from the ill-fated Wikia Search, it's that you need much more than a good idea to take on the ever-eclipsing might of Google - a lesson to which major competitor Microsoft should pay heed as hype begins to gain momentum around Kumo.com.
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