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Summary:

Will a people’s collective be able to beat Google at the search game? That’s the proverbial $64,000 question, and venture investors are trying to answer that by funding start-ups such as Wink, that plans to go live perhaps as soon as Thursday, according to Silicon Valley […]

Will a people’s collective be able to beat Google at the search game?

That’s the proverbial $64,000 question, and venture investors are trying to answer that by funding start-ups such as Wink, that plans to go live perhaps as soon as Thursday, according to Silicon Valley sources. The company has been in a limited beta since October, and today conducted a major update to its infrastructure and interface, according to their blog.

Wink is a search engine that integrates tag results from multiple sources such as del.icio.us, Digg, Yahoo MyWeb (and we’re adding more). As more services incorporate tags and user input, new pages are added to the Wink index and ranked using our TagRank technology to deliver the best results.

Wink is backed by some serious heavy weights: Scott Kurnit of About.com; Ron Conway; Reid Hoffman, Marc Andressen along with Venky Harinarayan (of Cambrian ventures) and David Sze (of Greylock).

Wink is not alone in taking on Google. Of course, there are others like Activeweave, Jookster, Kaboodle, and Rollyo which are taking “human cycles” and trying to come-up with better results than Google.

Yahoo’s MyWeb effort, so eloquently detailed by Erick Schonfeld in Business 2.0, and its recent acquisition of Del.icio.us are part of this “people versus Google” movement.

I am not so optimistic about this trend, because I have not seen the mainstreams get interested in the bookmarking and tagging as yet. Believers can take comfort in the fact, that it is early days, but I am not so sure. I think it needs a behavioral change on part of “searchers” who have become accustomed to simply typing their queries and then trying to figure out where to go. Sort of like bad cell phone coverage : we go used to it.

Of course, conspiracy theorist like me often wonders, what if search not only became good, but great and accurate. A lot of “spare page views” generated by hit-and-miss model of today can drastically reduce page views, and advertising opportunities. Of course that would be horrible for Google….

Back to Wink…. I am going to test out their offering once they go live, and update the post. You can of course contribute your thoughts.

  1. one observation — while they may (or may not) take on Google they seem to earn some bucks out via Google’s Adsense. :)

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  2. Explicit human endorsement of sites will definitely lead to better results than PageRank based on link popularity.

    This has already been proven for years with subscription search services in the library world. For example, LexisNexis, Ovid, NLM PubMed all include citation content that has been “tagged” with terms by content experts. This leads to very high quality, precise search.

    In the end though, Google can just add this as an additional layer to their search algorithms.

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  3. Excellent post Om as usual – a few comments:

    1. The hardest thing to create in today’s world is a new brand. Google successfully created a top 10 brand. That will be hard to replicate.

    2. As you point out, Google tapped into current user behavior. All of these other search engines are attempting to alter user behavior – which is much, much harder to do.

    3. Finally, there has been such a flood of these companies, all fairly undifferentiated, that it will be very tough for them to garner significant public attention. This is a little bit back to the brand issue, but, more broadly, they will have a hard time driving the traffic. That means spending more on marketing (sound familiar) or becoming a technology provider. I believe most of these web 2.0 companies will give up on becoming a major consumer brand and start thinking about the technology provider route.

    If we look at the path of a typical web 2.0 startup at this point, I believe they will follow the web 1.0 model:

    – Attempt to become a consumer brand
    – Attempt to partner with established consumer brands as a content or technology provider
    – Become a pure technology service play
    – Become an auction site for Aeron Chairs

    These little Web 2.0 companies are also quickly moving to take in large amounts of VC money without any clear business models other than acquisition – sounds to me like 2000 all over again.

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  4. INHO Wink has 3 disadvantages:
    a) Ranking pages is a very subjective matter – what one finds as relevant info, others might find irrelevant.
    b) It’s almost impossible to get different people to tag the same page with the same tags, even if there are a fixed set of tagging words.
    c) Most people won’t start work as librarians and index web pages…

    But don’t get me wrong, I’m very much in favor of more accurate searches!

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  5. Thanks for bringing this subject up Om. As the founder of Seekum this subject area interests me very much. As Xen pointed out what one finds interesting others may not, but I believe that things like tag density, and user votes will overcome this issues as more people are involved. I agree that not everyone is going to be tagging pages, or especially bookmarking pages in the sense that Wink needs them to be bookmarked. Wink needs users to bookmark practically every page they go to. To me I am still stuck with a “Favorites” mentality sugesting that I only bookmark sites that I would go back to or even worse really like compared to similar pages. Thats why when building Seekum we use an up down philosophy. The page is either relevant to a search or not. I’m not sure if these other more complex algorithms will help search results in the end. I think users in mass just by voting will be able to though.

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  6. The tagging revolution doesn’t require a search engine — check out the StumbleUpon extension for Firefox

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  7. I’ve written a few lines on tagging here . in short, I think way too many products are starting to rely on ‘people power’. if we agreed, soon, we’d all be working for ‘web 2.0′, instead of ‘it’ working for us.

    having said that, I do like the fact that wink (1) allows users to rank a given item in a result set and (2) makes grouping+saving+sharing of a result set. however, these are merely features that google & yahoo! can add (are adding?) … no need to start a company around it.

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  8. [...] In
    People Power Vs Google, Om Malik asks if “a people’s collective be able to beat Google at the search game?”<br /><br />Now, before anyone gets too excited, he’s not really talking about a people’s collective (as an aside – why is organizing and counter-culture lingo so popular these days?), at least not in any way that you or I would understand it, but he is talking about the merging of invidual web site tagging and search.<br /><br />The big question is whether any of the new search ideas deliver a better, faster, <span style=”font-weight: bold;”>more relevant</span> search results and do so in way that’s so easy to use that folks drop Google.<br /><br />As Om Malik points out, Google’s business model is a strong disincentive for further improvements in search, and let’s face it, Microsoft is no more interested in more effective search than Google – they just want our eyeballs to look at their ads, not Google’s; Yahoo is in the same camp.&nbsp; So, if anyone is going to dethrone the big search sites, it’s going to come from “the people.”<br /><br />We’ll see. [...]

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  9. I think we’re already seeing people power taking on Google: slowly and surely Wikipedia is rising to become the world’s no. 1 information source

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  10. In 2007 we find out that two of these engines are really gaining market share and somewhere in Redmond a bald old man is seen swearing at his employees “I am going to fucking KILL….” and tossing chairs at them.

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