Regarding Wikia, the "Open Source" Search Engine

From the man who brought us Wikipedia, comes Wikia: an open source search engine, backed by a reported $14 million dollars of venture funding.

Wikia, more or less, is attempting to wrangle the same forces that chiseled Wikiapedia into future world history books, and apply them to a for-profit search engine. A really unsexy way to describe Wikia's idea in reality is this:

Wikia will use a traditional search algorithms to produce a (primitive) "first draft" of any given search result. This first draft's rankings will be open to the public for re-ranking (and moderation). At first, the results will suck, but after the project reaches a critical mass, and has an active user base comparable to Wikipedia's -- guarding and improving the quality of results -- the search engine will blast off into the galaxy, leaving Google orbiting the moon.  

A tall order indeed, but wikia has a few factors working in its advantage:

  1. Everyone in tech media knows who Jimmy Wales is: "he's the wikipedia guy!"   
  2. (Closely tied to 1) Wikia's PR people have had a very easy time framing their launch as some sort of battle involving the Rebel Alliance(wikia) Vs. The Evil galactic Empire (google, and their retarded cousin yahoo) . Case and point, their ability to turn the acquirement of Grub (yes, THE grub) into news is quite impressive. This ability to turn non-news into news by way of association with the founder is an advantage that few startups can enjoy.
  3. (closely tied to 1&2) Visibility is to a startup as sunshine is to a plant. 

Beyond that, however, I foresee doom in Wikia's future. By all means I could be wrong, but one must admit, the project's success depends on it forging ahead through hurricane force winds made up of:

  1. Volunteers don't really like the idea of contributing their time to pad someone's bank account.
  2. The motivation for one to dishonestly manipulate the system is greater than the motivation to contribute their time to pad someone else's bank account. Or, to be more abstract, "take back search for the people." Spammers, SEO, and various marketing types are going to have a heyday if this venture reaches adolescence.
  3. The technology that could make this work (assuming a sufficient number of volunteers) would revolutionize web moderation in itself. Maybe that would make a better idea for Wales next startup?
  4. The idea sounds like a more organized version of a swicki. (obscure, but important point... think: man with no legs...)
  5. Wikia is taking on that Mountain View Cali. mom-and-pop shop with 13,748 full-time employees, and their 10 billion dollars a year in revenue (and rising). Firstly, if its a good idea, why hasn't google done it? Secondly, if it proves to be a good idea, what is stopping google from simply crushing them? Imagine google results with a little moderation link.... doesn't take a lot of imagination does it...
  6. Last but not least: "You get to do work for us for free" != "open source"