Mahalo & Human Power Search

I was avoiding writing a post about this because a couple of people better than me have covered it already, but I had a discussion about Mahalo today with a friend that sparked this post. 

Let me start by explaining what Mahalo is.  Mahalo is described as a "human powered search engine" and the basic idea consists of two basic concepts:

  1. People submit the pages they find interesting
  2. A team of people weed through the submitted sites and find other sites to create pages of results for search requests

The main difference is that the search results are based on the results of people working to find the best and most relevant sites as opposed to a computer running pages through algorithms.

People will claim that this was done before and didn’t succeed, but so did sites similar to YouTube, MySpace, and just about every other popular website today.  But I think that most people miss the point when they say things like that.  For one the internet has always been about improving upon the ideas that have come before it.  And most people forget that just because something did not work previously does not mean it won’t work this time around.  Besides if we stuck to that kind of thinking, we’d all be still listening to vinyl records on record players.

Why Mahalo is Important

The idea that a search company could beat Google, is ludicrous at best.  Google practically owns search.  That does not mean they return the best results, however.  In fact, sometimes you have to search two or three times to get the desired results.  It has taken many a search for me to get to where I am in regards to search ability.  But what if I could type in the exact thing I wanted and get a page of results dedicated to just that subject?  That’s what Mahalo tries to do.

Everyone knows that this feat is next to impossible.  You will never get every possible search, but you can get the more popular and the more logical.  For example, of this past weekend I wanted some information on caring for my lawn so I typed in "Lawn Care" into Google and was greeted with tons of results.  Results that I had to wade through to find the sites that would give me the information I needed.  Do I really want to sit down and weed (no pun intended) through those links?  Not really.

However, when I went over to Mahalo, I got a page that told me "we have not made this page yet" and while a little disheating, I was able to click a button to request that page to be made.  And to help out I went back to Google and started recommending links to Mahalo using their toolbar.  I know that there will soon be a "Lawn Care" search result on Mahalo.  This is fantastic.  For one thing, I know that I can’t possibly be the only person who wants to learn how to care for their lawn.  Secondly, Mahalo has turned themselves into a free "research on request" company where millions of people can enjoy the labor of my request.

While you might think that the above example shows a failing in Mahalo, I find it to be one of its charms.  To request the page, to help contribute, and to know that others will help make a page that will help me find the information I need is good to know.

Furthering Search Engines

Some people might say, that Google has more information overall, and they would be right.  There is something to be said for "indexing the internet" and I do not believe that Mahalo and the idea of human search is going to break into Google’s usage percentage.  I do think that how we search for data on the internet needs to change somewhat.  People want to be able to find the information they want quickly and with little fuss.  The idea of human powered search does have a certain appeal, but it can get expensive.  The more people who use the site, the more people will be need to create pages, research links, submit pages, and so forth.

The good news is, eventually sites based off the human search concept will be filled with hundreds of result pages and people will be able to find what they want quickly.  If they want to dig further then the 40-60 links on the human powered results pages, they can still flip over to Google and dig through the millions of pages.  I think that both systems can exist and survive in the same space.

I think that sites like Mahalo might encourage Google to find ways to return better results thus improving their own product.  Competition is healthy and can lead to innovation, here’s hoping that sites like Mahalo can lead to further innovation in the search engine market.

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