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[SERVICE] Mahalo and the Power of People
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[SERVICE] Mahalo and the Power of People

December 17th, 2008 · No Comments

The People Powered search engine Mahalo has been making a small splash over the past 1.5 years since its launch with its human cultivated search results or ‘guides’. Whether this has more to do with the admirable grass roots PR efforts by its web-celebrity CEO Jason Calacanis or due to its true utility has yet to be seen. In a quick look at Alexa web traffic rankings, Mahalo has a 3 month running average rank of 1,885 - which is pretty darn good considering there are millions of websites currently published…but for comparison, ubiquitous search giant Google ranks at number 2…just behind another search giant, Yahoo. This gives you some idea of the uphill battle ahead if Mahalo seeks to make bigger waves in the search world.

The key element of Mahalo’s design is the fact that they have paid human editors that monitor and cultivate the results shown in their search results. To extend this method, the team at Mahalo is evolving its design and introduced a new service called Mahalo Answers this week to much fanfare and criticism. The new trick is that Mahalo is allowing anyone to act as one of their paid search guides by responding to questions posted to the site. For each question, answers will be posted and the best answers recieve ‘tips’ in the form of a fictional currency, Mahalo dollars (M$), which has a current exchange rate of $0.75USD to M$1. Once you’ve banked enough tips you can cash out or use your funny money to post your own questions and pay for answers.

I have a couple of issues with this approach. First, if you’re going to spend the time to craft a question, wait for results, sift through the results and compensate the best answer - couldn’t you have just conducted your own search in the first place? It reminds me of a new favorite website, LetMeGoogleThatForYou.com, that basically ribs your target for not just looking something up themselves. Second, by dangling the carrot, aren’t you encouraging people to just submit any and everything in an effort to increase their probability of a payoff? Already the front page is full of questions like “What are the best ways on how to gain points quickly? ” and “Is there a way to tell if people are actually giving tips for their answers? “. This is where the more altruistic Wikipedia may have an advantage in having people contribute for the sake of contributing…albeit, trying to find the answers to such pressing questions as “Do you prefer nightgowns or pajamas and why? ” on Wikipedia might be a stretch.

Do we need people powered search? is automated search dead? Have people outdesigned the algorithm designers with ways to game the system? Will people ever move away from Google? It has grown so ubiquitous that it’s a strange to think about average web consumers using another service. There are other search engines out there (cuil, Live) - search engines that search the search engines (metacrawler, dogpile) - and even other ‘human powered’ search engines such as Ask.com and Yahoo Answers. Another category trying to innovate further on the search model are services like Cha Cha where you call or text message a question which is assigned to a search agent and they reply to you with specific, albeit brief, results right on your phone.

Finally the question that enters in to my mind is this: are any of these really the next big thing or are we just hunting and pecking while trying to figure out what our true needs are before creating the next truly big thing? What will that be? Voice search? Telepathic search? How will we ever be able to index every piece of human knowledge ever and make it useful to all people, and not just those obsessed enough with the next new start-up search engine trend to actually find it. Hopefully it will appear on the first page of the Google results for “everything”.

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