February 24, 2009

"Who Wants to be a Millionaire" ... traffic spike beneficiary

I noticed a big spike in traffic to my Al Gore "Internet" page recently, and was puzzled as to the cause. It turned out to have been from a WWTBAM question:

Roger used his final three lifelines to get to the $250,000. The question was "Al Gore’s famous and oft-ridiculed quote "I took the initiative in creating the Internet" was made in 1999 to what journalist? A: Barbara Walters, B: Larry King, C: Wolf Blitzer, D: Matt Lauer." Not knowing, he first used Ask the Expert, with Ashleigh Banfield of TruTV. She believed it was C but wasn’t too confident. Next he used Ask the Audience; they believed the answer was B. He finally used his Double Dip lifeline to select both answers. Roger first chose B, which was incorrect; after which he chose C which won him $250,000.

(note that was "to what journalist", not "used for a hatch job by what so-called "journalist"").

That was good for around 1,500 hits. Not a million, but all readers gratefully accepted. I didn't seem to get any links out of it though, at least not that I saw.

How do these shows with ask-the-audience or ask-a-friend aspects prevent the surreptitious use of search engines? It seems like there's a cheating scandal waiting to happen there.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in website | on February 24, 2009 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
February 21, 2009

Wikia Search / Yahoo results confusion example

I recently noted the Wikia Search using Yahoo operational change, speculating:
"And one wouldn't want people who go to Wikia Search currently to think the results are proof of anything other than that Yahoo has a program to allow others to use its search system. It would be pretty easy to get a misimpression along the way."

It turns out at least one person got exactly that sort of misimpression:

"... I really think this Wikia search has the ability to beat Google in some key areas. I've already discovered a few searches that Wikia Search beats Google on, and I figured I'd write one down - dreamhost wiki."

But it wasn't "Wikia Search", it was Yahoo's search.

I wonder if any reporters will be similarly fooled, and write even more Google-killer hype articles. Certainly I don't see any "Powered by Yahoo" identifier on Wikia Search now. For a project that touts "Transparency" as a main goal, that's rather ironic.

I checked the Yahoo! BOSS (Build your Own Search Service) details, and they don't require attribution, so what Wikia is doing is permitted. Still, given all the free publicity Wikia garnered, along with the storyline of killing Google (a complicated matter, something of a media invention), having it silently being so much a rebadged Yahoo! Search seems like something which, morally, should be more evident. The phrase "legal, but sleazy and unethical" comes to mind.

Disclaimer: I'm a member of the "negative people and FUD mongers".

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search , yahoo | on February 21, 2009 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
February 14, 2009

Wikia Search admits having no " "usable" algorithmic search "

Wikia Search, the project to buy Jimmy Wales a jet, I mean, have a Wikipedia-like search engine (i.e. unpaid labor does the work), changed over at some point from using their own back-end to using Yahoo! BOSS (Build your Own Search Service). While not a secret, it's been difficult to find information about the switch (I believe for obvious reasons ...).

Today in a discussion thread Wales posted about the change:

In order to get the front end going successfully (which we have, although there are a lot of bugs to fix and a lot of unmet community needs so far), we needed to have a "usable" algorithmic search.

But our own crawl+algorithm was not yet good enough. So usage wasn't growing, it wasn't possible to "eat our own dogfood" even.

So we have to currently use Yahoo! BOSS for the backend (which is actually pretty decent) to build traffic and participation, while continuing to work and figure out the backend for the future.

Good to have it on record. And one wouldn't want people who go to Wikia Search currently to think the results are proof of anything other than that Yahoo has a program to allow others to use its search system. It would be pretty easy to get a misimpression along the way.

I'll note he goes on to say:

I would totally ask that we switch back to index.isc.org, or to any other free-software solution, as soon as it is "decent enough" - doesn't even have to be *better than* Yahoo BOSS.

Yes, but the difficulty is that people kept pointing out that this was a very hard problem. And Wikia, a venture-capital funded start-up company, was effectively getting a large chunk of its research and development costs here subsidized and funded by user donations. Many search start-ups would love publicity and practical subsidy like that.

Hmm, powered by Yahoo for the moment, selling Google ads, feel how this is really an endeavor to fight the power and bring democracy to search (stand up and cheer! buy The Founder a jet!).

Disclaimer: I'm an idiot.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on February 14, 2009 11:12 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7)
February 11, 2009

My _Guardian_ column on "wikianswers" conflict

"What's in a name? Everything, when you're talking wiki value"

"A question of confusion has no simple answer, as shown by an argument over the names of wiki-based sites dedicated to providing answers to questions"

I didn't pick the title, but it's OK. I didn't even make a suggestion. I would have tried for something clever like "Wikianswers sites raise questions", but maybe that would be too cute.

The column is about how both Answers.com and Wikia (the start-up company which is not the commercial arm of Wikipedia, understand, it's an entirely separate entity which is just trying to "commercialize the hell out of it" conceptually) now both have sites with a capitalization variant of "wikianswers".

Money quote:

In my opinion, Wikia's relaunch of its site using the name Wikianswers is sleazy and unethical in the face of the far more well-known and successful Answers.com [site].

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikia | on February 11, 2009 09:48 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (9)