Mahalo: 2.0ld school?

It’s hard to tell whether Mahalo–“the first human powered search engine”–is the next great thing or the last one.

Based on the premise that sentient beings can put together more useful search results than a Google (or Ask, or Windows Live, or Yahoo, etc.) algorithm can, the project is paying people $10 to $15 per topic to dig up the most useful sites in hundreds of categories. The site’s announced goal: gray-matter-filtered results on 10,000 topics. 

[The obvious hole in the “world’s first” hype is that Yahoo pioneered this human-made directory task long before Al Gore even invented the Internet. I suppose the Mahalians have a comeback to that–some meaningful way to distinguish what they are doing from Yahoo (and, for that matter, About.com and other human-powered Web guides). But the “world’s first” claim immediately calls the effort’s intellectual honesty into question.] 

I love the idea of Mahalo because it’s John Henry vs. the Steam Hammer–betting on human strength to overpower the machine. (Mahalo hasn’t assembled results for searches on that great American folk tale, so the above link to Wikipedia will have to suffice.) Mahalo takes on directly the suspect premise that algorithms are able to can spam, foil MFA (Made For Adsense indignities), smell a rat–essentially, to distinguish sh*t from shinola.

Mahalo integrates some principles of UGC and wisdom-of-the-crowds: Users can recommend sites. But again, humans vet these recommendations to make sure people aren’t pimping themselves. The site also reveals which sites were recommended and rejected and why–a bit wikilike, to invoke another Hawaiinerd term of art.

It’s way too early (still in “alpha,” not even beta yet) to proclaim Mahalo anthing other than an ambitious work in progress. My very preliminary poking around suggests this: By using Mahalo you trade some gold (the weird serendipities Google upchucks which can spark a new thought, or at least a digressive fugue) in order to lose the garbage (SEO’d sites that do little other than prove Google’s algorithms can be gamed).

I’ll have to spend more time with the site as it develops. Meanwhile, anybody out there care to share their experience or observations?

Explore posts in the same categories: search, UGC, wisdom of the crowds

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