January 06, 2008

Wikia Search Follies

Wikia Search "transparency" doesn't seem to go too far in practice, as Jimmy Wales himself has now basically tossed me from the Search-Wikia mailing list - proclaiming at first "Seth, you're an idiot." and then immediately denouncing my "conspiracy mongering and FUD" (well, I'm technically on "moderation", but given that sort of flaming from The Man, I'd say it's in essence a ban).

Wow. I've long known Jimmy Wales had a problem with lashing out at people who do not trust and love him, and favors sycophantic behavior. But I'm continually surprised at what seems to draw his wrath. It's very much the dark side of the cult guru who has been crossed.

Here's what I wrote which caused him to blow-up, in a little discussion thread about the pending Wikia Search launch (since this is within a thread, there's details which refer to earlier matters, they're probably not important).

Well, it seems obvious that some sort of funding deal got done. My *guess* is that it involved funneling money through the "Internet Systems Consortium". Something like, *hypothetically*, BigMoneyMan was convinced to donate a million bucks or so to the ISC, where the ISC would then run the search project for Wikia. That structuring would mean the BigMoneyMan would get a tax deduction, while Wikia would not be saddled with more venture capital obligations. Then that supports buying many servers and for expert consulting.

I should clarify I'm not saying that the above *hypothetical* is necessarily a bad thing (though small search engines might claim it's favoritism in spirit even if permitted under the letter of the law).

Maybe the deal will be announced Monday, "We got X dollars from Y (via ISC), which allowed us to put Z servers into production and hire ABC". I should stress, before Jimmy flames me for speculation, that under the current "mushroom management", speculation is all I can do. And I assume such a sharp businessman has taken his financial experiences with Wikipedia (as part of a non-profit, "501(c)(3)" foundation) to heart.

There's a large amount of tension between the fact that Wikia is a venture capital backed start-up, and the idea of running a transparent open-source project. Let's remember that the price of the Grub crawler being $50K was not a secret _per se_, eventually being disclosed in SEC documents. But due to the implications, Wikia definitely had an incentive to keep that info hidden as long as possible. Businesses by nature aren't transparent - that's the whole history of the Securities and Exchange Commission in a nutshell.

I suppose I could beg Jimmy Wales to forgive me (err, could have before I did this post). But I'd probably just annoy him again with my irreverence and business-oriented analysis. Oh, and I've got a blog! :-(

[Update: link for memesturbation]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on January 06, 2008 12:00 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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You must have hit some nerve Seth - I consider your questions reasonable, especially in absence of answers despite declared transparency. If people get silenced right now under these circumstances, then what would happen in case of successful Wikia search engine facing some serious conflicts of interests with tens of millions of dollars at stake?

You are not alone Seth - thanks for speaking out for us though.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 6, 2008 12:35 PM

It is not the nature of the questions you pose but in the manner you do. Comes off as something deriding of a good project underway.

Transparency was attributed to the 'Search' experience and functionality and not the business underlying of it.

You were a pest and continue to be so. Let's see if you sensor this comment. So much for transparency.


Posted by: Chris at January 6, 2008 01:23 PM

Anonymous: Thanks. I may not be alone, but I am marginalized. Again :-(.

Chris: I believe the project management was also hyped as transparent. Surely you'll admit that many servers coming out of nowhere, and an attitude of not to ask questions about where they came from, strikes a discordant note? As I said, I'm irreverent. I don't worship Wales as some sort of guru, I think of him as a businessman, and Wikia has $14 million of VC money - that all matters. And, regarding the cheap irony, I don't hold myself out as any sort of great organizer of "community" (though I'd be happy to have hordes of people working for me for free ...).

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at January 6, 2008 04:33 PM

Typical Wales-esque arrogance.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 6, 2008 06:17 PM

This reaction from Jimbo fits his M.O. When he is addressing those who are fawning over his genius and thanking him for "inventing" Wikipedia, he is humble, gracious, and exudes useful knowledge for the common man.

But, when he is addressing his intellectual equal or superior, especially one who does not buy his tonic hook, line, and sinker, he is abrupt, dismissive, and rude.

Consider it a compliment, Seth.

Posted by: Gregory Kohs at January 6, 2008 07:43 PM

it's 2008, and smart businessmen everywhere are incorporating "free" into their business plans. redhat and suse are great examples of how to make yourself relevant by what you give away, while still making money somewhere. i do not think seth is an idiot, and i do not think that jimbo is a flamer. what we're seeing here is crossed wires, not fundamental nature.

Posted by: paul vixie at January 6, 2008 11:05 PM

Jimmy did a similar thing with me. After having dinner for an hour with me, a dinner where he asked me a dozen questions, he claimed he didn't remember me and that I was boring. He then went on to say Mahalo was not interesting and that I'm a troll.

I agree with Gregory Kohs comment. Jimmy seems to be the humble monk when being praised, but if someone challenges his position in anyway (in my case by saying people should be paid for working for a venture backed company) he attacks them personally.

So much for "assume good faith"


Posted by: Jason at January 7, 2008 11:58 AM

Looking at the flickr photos, those servers being unloaded from a truck are not boxed. They look like used equipment someone unloaded from racks. The donation theory is plausible, but not big money, just old used servers.

Posted by: Anonymous-2 at January 7, 2008 03:01 PM

Jason - it seems to me that Jimmy borrowed your Mahalo concept by having human edited stuff for some search queries. One would think that if Wikia decided to use Nutch for "their" search they'd give them not just open credit and big thanks, but actually donate some cash to Nutch's development, perhaps servers and actually either develop it further or pay people on Nutch's project to do so. Actually on TechCrunch's site there is a comment from Nutch dev team about them not being talked to by Wikia, very strange behavior really: if anything it is Nutch people who deserve world wide credit for their work.

I am in no way affiliated with Nutch people, just making an observation.

Posted by: Anonymous at January 7, 2008 07:18 PM

I've arrived, Seth! :) (you made Valleywag) -- all your labor was not in vain...


P.S. I know, I know... it's not the New York Times. Then again, at least on one topic (craigslist) they appear to be much smarter than the NYT journalists...

P.P.S oh... and looks like Gates is talking to them (recent entry) so you are not in bad company... D.

Posted by: Delia at January 7, 2008 08:51 PM

oops! I meant YOU've arrived!

re: http://valleywag.com/341772/wikia-not-so-transparent-says-uk-hack


P.S. they seem to be wrong on the U.K. thing, no? D.

Posted by: Delia at January 7, 2008 08:58 PM

Hey, they called you a "U.K. Hack"!
("Cosmo, call me a cab!")

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at January 7, 2008 09:04 PM

Delia, Jon: I've always wanted to be Valleywag'ed. I write for the _Guardian_ which is a UK-based publication, so I suppose that's an accurate description.

Gregory, Jason: Yeah, it looks like it's my turn as The Heretic to his Grand Guru role. Every cult needs to react against unbelievers.

Paul: Sadly, I do think there's a deep conflict. There's "free" as in "unpaid labor".

Anonymous(es) - Good points about bad infrastructure!

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at January 8, 2008 01:44 PM