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12/26/2006
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Wikipedia Founder Plans Search Engine

The search engine, code-named Wikiasari, would combine open source technology and human intervention to deliver more relevant results than the algorithm-based systems used today.

Jimmy Wales, founder of online encyclopedia Wikipedia, is planning to build an online commercial search engine that would compete with Google and Yahoo.

The search engine, code-named Wikiasari, would combine open source technology and human intervention to deliver more relevant results than the algorithm-based systems used today, Wales said Tuesday. "Human intelligence is still the best thing we have, so let's let humans do what they do best, and computers do what they do best." Wikiasari combines the Hawaiian word for quick, "wiki," with the Japanese word "asari," which means "rummaging search."

Relevance remains a challenge in online search, since machines can only take a roundabout approach in determining the ranking of results delivered to people's queries. For example, Google's automated system considers the number of links to a Web site in determining whether it's closer to the top or bottom of results.

Wales plans to combine the user-based technology behind nonprofit Wikipedia with open source Web-search software called Nutch, which is part of the Apache Lucene project. The latter has developed a full-featured text search engine written in Java.

Wales doesn't know how his search engine would combine human intelligence and technology. "We really haven't determined how all of this is going to work," he said.

However, Wales believes the time is right, given the availability of what he considers solid open-source technology. "The time is right, because we actually have some tools available to start building something interesting," he said.

Wikipedia depends on user contributions in building an online encyclopedia. Registered users can add any item or edit items already posted. The site works on the idea that the collective knowledge of the masses is better than a system run by editors and expert contributors. Wikipedia, however, has had its problems with erroneous postings, which are corrected as soon as site operators are notified.

Wales hopes to launch his search engine within two years. Development would be funded by his for-profit company Wikia Inc. Its investors include Bessemer Venture Partners and Amazon.com.

Wales hopes to make money with his search engine through online advertising. Text ads related to search queries and delivered with results have become a multibillion-dollar market, with Google the clear leader.

However, whether Wales can capture even a thin slice of the market against tech leaders like Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, or even smaller search engines like Ask.com, remains to be seen.

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