August 18, 2007

Wikia Search - "volunteerism" will pay for the web-crawling

Wikia CEO on lunacy, air miles and being profitless (my emphasis below)

Penchina: People say to me, "That's crazy, this is something you spend a million dollars putting together and probably a half a million dollars a year updating, and you're just going to give it away for free?"

Actually, we might spend a quarter million dollars this year on the whole search project, on the engineers we pay, the search we run. ... But by having users help out with this, the cost of crawling the Web is close to zero. There are some storage and bandwidth costs, but some partners are providing storage and bandwidth for free. [He declines to name them, citing nondisclosure agreements]

Between the crawl being free, plus the bandwidth and storage, it's pretty cheap. Plus, by offering it out to the community, anyone else developing their own search engine will feed back software, patches, etc., which will strengthen the overall project. This is a mission our users believe in.

The philosophical tenets are so in tune with what we were doing anyway -- volunteerism, free information, free software, making the world slightly better in some way -- that we sort of had to do it.

In other words, you volunteer to make the Wikia investors rich. Because it's "community".

The project has some very unpleasant overtones of a businessman's fantasy of what Open Source means - all the user-gnomes work for nothing in the coding mines, grubbing out gold for the King. Because golly, it's fun.

But I'm not on any crusade to Save The Programmers. It's not necessary. For example:

Search is about turning hard data into information that people can use. Forgive me if this sounds a bit cynical but it has been a long day. Right now, I think that the Wikia people might have been hitting the koolaid a bit too hard. From the whole "user" angle to this happy-clappy nonsense, it doesn't seem like Wikia has much of a plan.

We in the real world of search deal in data and distilling it into information that people can use. We can't afford your vaporware hopes and dreams because we haven't venture capital to rely upon. So while Wikia might be able to flit around giving soundbites to gullible journalists, we have to build search engines and deal with reality. Please don't waste our time with pious platitudes - provide some answers or at least contribute.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on August 18, 2007 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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When the CEO is referring to "partners" providing Wikia with free storage and bandwidth, I don't think he's referring to volunteers. They're probably other companies (ISPs? colo facilities?) who are giving their resources to Wikia in exchange for something else (a cut of the ad revenue? access to mailing lists of contributors?).

Posted by: Seth Gordon at August 20, 2007 09:28 AM

Right. That's clear because of "nondisclosure agreements". But he's giving them something in return, which is going to come from unpaid labor, I mean "user-generated".

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at August 20, 2007 10:49 AM