After months of talk and a few weeks of invitation-only testing, Wikia Search is to open to the general public next week.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales says his goal is to let volunteers improve search technology collectively, the way Wikipedia lets anyone add or change entries, regardless of expertise.
A Different Approach
"That reduces the sort of bottleneck of two or three firms really controlling the flow of search traffic," said Wales, chairman of Wikia, the for-profit venture behind the search project.
Engineers at Google and other search companies continually tweak their complex software algorithms to improve results and fight spammers -- those who try to artificially boost the rankings of their own sites. Search companies have not disclosed many details to avoid tipping off competitors and spammers.
Wales' approach would open that process. Initially, participants will help make such decisions as whether a site on "Paris Hilton" refers to the celebrity or a French hotel.
Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of the industry Web site Search Engine Land, has his doubts. Finding all the Web sites to index and staying ahead of spammers are huge undertakings, Sullivan said.
"I think he doesn't really understand the scale of what Google has to handle in terms of the queries from around the world and the amount of traffic that flows to it and the attempts that are made to try to manipulate it," Sullivan said.
Wales said the project would launch with about 50 million to 100 million Web pages indexed, a fraction of the billions available with major search engines.
Even as Wales tries to challenge search, Google has announced a project that could challenge Wikipedia. Google's version, called "Knol," will differ from Wikipedia by identifying who wrote each article and giving authors a chance to share in Google's advertising revenue.