Because Google is so good at what it does – retrieving whatever information we want from the organisational chaos of the internet whilst involving it’s audience in the development of new tools and products – it’s tempting to think of it as an inclusive, open service. But of-course like Yahoo and Microsoft, the crown jewels of its intellectual property (the alogorithms on which it’s search product is based) still remain a closely guarded secret.
Which is partly what makes the Wikia Search project so interesting. Led by Wikipedia’s co-founder Jimmy Wales and named after his umbrella company, Wikia Search is developing new search products with one crucial difference – the algorithms which provide the basis for its results will be completely open. Wales, whose whole business and philosophy is based on the power of open-source and human collaboration, is taking on the giants of search and in doing so is challenging some well established web practices. He wants to "collectively work to free the judgment of information from invisible rules inside an algorithmic black box", believing that people will trust the results they are getting far more if they understand how they got them. He has recently released a product under an open source licence and has a disparate bunch of developers working on it, organising themselves around four key principles which they believe the future of Internet search must be based on (as quoted):
1. Transparency – Openness in how the systems and algorithms operate, both in the form of open source licenses and open content + APIs.
2. Community – Everyone is able to contribute in some way (as individuals or entire organizations), strong social and community focus.
3. Quality – Significantly improve the relevancy and accuracy of search results and the searching experience.
4. Privacy – Must be protected, do not store or transmit any identifying data.
One of their active areas of focus is social search methodologies – "sources for URL reputation, experiments in wiki-style social ranking."
The whole concept of search protocols being built using open source principles whilst combining algorithmic and human resource is fascinating. Will it ever threaten Google? I don’t know. But it is another sign that some of the fundamental principles on which business is founded are changing. The collaborative conventions that provide impetus behind open source have already gained serious cultural traction (Blogging, Creative Commons et al). Mass collaboration is a hugely powerful tool. Does not the new world order mean that all companies have to accept a far more open approach in their business in order not only to succeed, but to survive?