Search Wikia hires Jabber founder, expands concept

Jabber creator Jeremie Miller is joining Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia and Wikia, in building an open source, community-driven search service.

Jabber is an open protocol that lets instant messaging services interoperate. Miller will serve as technical lead of the open source search project.

Wales announced late last year that he was developing the Search Wikia offering. "The basic concept of the search project is that I want to create a completely transparent, open-source, freely licensed search engine," he said.

The project will have a couple of aspects. One will be related to work Miller is already doing on a standard protocol that search engines or organizations with search projects could use to collaborate and exchange data, Wales said. The idea is similar to Jabber, which was developed in 1998 and has tens of millions of users, according to the Jabber Software Foundation.

While search engines typically don't work with each other that way today, they might want to, Wales said. For instance, if one search engine specialized in a certain type of search, it could partner with others in order to offer a broader service, he said.

Such collaboration doesn't have to be free. A standard for sharing data could spur a "whole economy of search players collaborating and sharing revenue," he said.

Search Wikia also aims to offer an open search platform that anyone online can look at and contribute to. Currently, most search engines keep their algorithms proprietary and continually tweak their algorithms, he said. "Those are things that I think should be done openly," he said.

Just as Wales' Wikipedia allows anyone on the Web to contribute to an online encyclopedia, Search Wikia will let anyone contribute to the search process. "So we'll have a community of people giving truly editorial feedback, where they can make a judgment that this group of search results seems wrong or add weight to this or that site depending on what they're seeing," he said.

Even as he embarks on this new community project, Wales admits that by their very nature, community-driven sites face challenges. "Take a look at Wikipedia for an analogy. There are amazing strengths to Wikipedia, but clearly some weaknesses, too," he said. Wikipedia is a popular online source of information but has faced some unique situations in which people posted inaccurate information on the site or companies tried to influence the information posted there.

He's assuming that Search Wikia will face similar types of challenges as Wikipedia, so he will try to build flexibility into the system in order to handle them.

Wales expects to have an "extremely alpha" version of Search Wikia available by year-end, mainly for developers to contribute to. "So we're quite a ways until we have a consumer search project," he said.

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