Wikia Launches Search Engine, Challenges Google | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.01.2008
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Wikia Launches Search Engine, Challenges Google

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has unveiled his rival platform, Wikia Search, for navigating the Web. But does it work? DW-WORLD asked experts on both sides and did some sample searches. The results were mixed.

Screen shot of computer

It will take a lot of time, if Wikia is ever to rival Google

It's a David and Goliath story. With the launch of the Wikia Search engine, entrepreneur Jimmy Wales is taking on industry giant Google, which currently enjoys a 90 market share.

The new search engine uses Web 2.0 components and touts -- in contrast to Google -- an open algorithm for greater transparency about how the order in which the results appear is determined.

Google is taking the arrival of a new competitor in stride.

"We expressly welcome the fact that Wikia Search has now joined Google and the other competitors in Germany and other countries," Stefan Keuchel, press spokesman for Google Germany, told DW-WORLD.DE. "There's room enough for more than one provider. Both the market as a whole and users profit from competition. We and others will have to move ahead with innovations."

But some specialists question how innovative Wikia Search's software is.

""This project uses so-called grub software, something that was mothballed a few years ago and has now been revived," independent IT scientist Wolfgang Sauer-Beuermann told DW-WORLD.DE. "The only thing that's new is the name."

Taking Wikia out for a spin

Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales is convinced the project will work

Wikia Search's biggest problem will probably be overcoming Google's massive head start. The search giant has been in existence since 1998, whereas the Wikia company was only founded in 2004.

Tests of the alpha version of Wikia Search instantly reveal some shortcomings. The new engine encompasses only 50-100 million websites, compared with the 10 billion claimed by Google.

For example, when DW searched Wikia for "Bundesliga," it only yielded two hits for Germany's professional soccer league -- a commercial page and a weblog.

Likewise a search for "Troja" -- the German word for "Troy" -- resulted in advertisements, instead of entries on the ancient Greek city or references to Homer's Iliad.

"It will take significant time before the evaluation systems deliver a number of quality search results," Keuichel said.

User rankings versus algorithms

Screen shot

Wales' Wikipedia has established itself alongside traditional reference sources

Wikia boss Jimmy Wales thinks his search engine has a decisive advantage over Google in that the process used to decide the ranking of hits will be transparent and open to influence by users.

"We expect Wikia Search to be like fine wine in that it will get better and better as time goes by and more and more people contribute, " Wales told Reuters news agency, when the alpha program was unveiled. "I've said before that Internet searches must be more open and transparent, and today marks a major milestone in our mission to make it just that."

Google counters that its algorithm-based ranking system is a great strength.

"We revolutionized the market ten years ago with this process, and it's used by everyone else," Keuchel said. "For us, it's the best way to reach the masses. And in any case every algorithm has to be written by someone. Robots don't make them -- very, very intelligent people do. So it's hard to understand this argument by Mr. Wales."

In Wikia Search, individual users are asked to rank the quality of the hits. It's a Web 2.0 approach familiar from Wales' on-line, user-generated reference source Wikipedia.

But some analysts are unimpressed, disputing the idea that this approach will lead to more fairness and transparency.

"It isn't that great a feature," Sander-Beuermann said. "Users will rate their own websites as best so that they appear at the top of the index. Wikia Search is not a serious competitor for Google. It will more likely be a means of earning even more money."

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