IDC Canada

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’s announcement of the upcoming public preview of Wikia Search – a community-driven search engine that will make its debut next week – has left enterprise search analysts leery but at least one Canadian vendor cheering his initiative.

Wikia plans to release the search engine in alpha form, calling for people to contribute their feedback about what works and what doesn’t. Wales is positioning the search engine as a more “transparent” alternative to search giants like Google and Microsoft.

The search engine will be powered by open source software, including search algorithms and application program interfaces, along with a search platform from Grub—which was acquired by Wikia last year—that trolls the Web via processing power donated by users.

Wikia Search allows users to help rank pages and edit search results, said Forrester Research senior analyst Ken Poore.

But, he said, this capability is already available through other search vendors that concentrate on enterprise-level search, such as the Quebec-based Coveo, Endeca, Autonomy, and Fast.

“This is a project in search of a reason for being. It needs to further differentiate itself from everything else in the market. Why is this even being created?” said Kevin Restivo, an analyst with the Toronto-based research firm IDC Canada.

Efrem Habteselassie, owner of Toronto-based search engine consulting firm ACIS Consulting, is optimistic about Wikia Search’s transparency gambit.

“This is the wave of the future, not only for public facing internet search, but also for corporate internal content search… Corporations are leveraging the power of collaboration and social feedback/tagging for identification and discovery of the most valued content and discovery of expert resources within the company.”

The user index is nowhere near what the enterprise needs at this point.Kevin Restivo, analyst>TextWikia Search, however, has a long way to go, said Poore. “It has to grow organically. I don’t see it having a direct impact on enterprise search, really, except for intranet portal searches.”

“And,” said Restivo, “the user index is nowhere near what the enterprise needs at this point. And if anyone even does experiment with it, the consumer would have to be the most tech-savvy of tech-savvy users.”

While similar search engine capabilities are slowly entering the enterprise, Poore said, it hasn’t become too popular as of yet, due to the “social” machinery behind it. “Wikia Search is socially correct, with people weeding out the ranks and the results filtered by the masses. I don’t see how that can be acceptable in the enterprise space. There’s only a few authorities in the enterprise,” he said.

He said that the rise of tagging articles is helping. This is a niche where Wikia Search could try and make a play alongside the aforementioned vendors, but it would be working against some established companies, Poore and Restivo agreed.

Or even one of the big boys—Restivo said, “I don’t see a reason why someone with a mostly Microsoft shop wouldn’t just go with Microsoft Search Server, if they haven’t already, or even Google.” And the company’s brand recognition could even work against them, said Poore, due to Wikipedia’s strong “collaborative” reputation. Said Restivo: “Notoriety does not equal success.”

Poore said that intranets are the one thing that could benefit from such a tool; he suggested the example of an internal HR Web site that allows users to log on and search for various factors, such as salary or experience, that would then allow them to see the people and results.

“That way, they could speak to whoever had the most salary raises or had worked there the longest, rather than just consulting someone who only might have been working there for a week,” he said.

According to Poore, expertise can also be tagged to them. Said Habteselassie: “Sometimes, the expert you’re looking for might be one floor away but you may not be aware of this, social networking enabled search allows you to quickly discover the guru on the topic you’re interested in and all other colleagues who express interest in your topic.”

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