In making this post, I feel like some guy in 1996 going “there’s this little website called eBay, it’s like an auction but it’s all over the world at once, right now it’s just got a few old lunchboxes and some busted electronics, but I think it could be huge someday!”

First, some background. Nobody I know of is happy with the current search monopoly situation. You search one place because they have the best results, nobody else even comes close. But when those results suck, what can you do? Nothing.

This problem is particularly acute with adult blogs, which often perform poorly in the search engines despite having some of the most detailed textual discussions extant of many sexual issues. There’s presumably a complex of reasons for this, the biggest of which is probably spam. So many porn spammers attempt to game the search engines to promote their sex sites, that the search engine “immune systems” (filters and controls) are quick to kick in when adult search terms are present. There’s also some evidence (endlessly blogged about elsewhere) that the search engines, being corporate, are fairly hostile to sexual material, or at best indifferent to the quality of adult searches.

Anyway, what can be done? The paradigm of automatic crawling plus automated anti-spam filters yields a functional index, but in adult areas the subjective quality of the results often seems low. And, in my experience, the more I know about a search term, the worse the results look to me — there are too many “where is that site, it should be here?” and “that site is just a slick-looking front end for spammy scraped-and-morphed RSS” moments.

Enter Jimmy Wales, the guy (love him or hate him) who was instrumental in making Wikipedia what it is today. He’s been working for quite awhile on using wiki-style user interaction to create better search results than anything available today. It’s an insanely ambitious concept, because the easier you make it for folks to “improve” search results, the easier you make it for them to game them, spam them, and crap all over them in wild orgies of sheerest vandalism. Is it possible for the crowdsourced wiki magic to overwhelm the forces of spam, or at least to fight them to a useful draw? Right now, it seems unlikely. But everybody thought Wikipedia could never be useful, either. That turned out to be dead wrong; for all its manifest flaws, Wikipedia is insanely useful on many topics.

If — please join me in my pipe dream — if only the new Wikia Search (re-released today in open Alpha with, for the first time, useful user-editing features) could produce a user experience that’s competitive with the current search behemoth, wouldn’t that be awesome? It doesn’t have to win or be better — it just needs a fan base and an integer percentage of total search volume, enough to trigger some concern and competition from the corporate search providers. We all know that internet users search for adult stuff (including, but not limited to, porn) a whole lot. Right now, those search outcomes are poor, and nobody in corporate America seems much interested in improving them.

I am hoping that Wikia Search offers a way forward. Why not check it out, play around with the very intuitive tools for improving the results of the searches that you do, see if it isn’t fun to use and fun to improve? (I got sucked in on my first visit; before I knew it, I’d deleted tons of spammy results from several searches and fixed the ugly “snippets” for several favorite sites. I even added a few worthy sites that weren’t showing up. It’s addictively fun, and much easier than working on a Wikipedia article.)

We know the spammers — including the porn spammers — are going to be all over this if it gets any traction. In my (metaphorical) pipe dream, I’m imagining the non-spammy adult web people getting there first, to help build and defend useful search results for adult terms. Idealistic, I know, and pointless if this turns out to be a failed experiment. But imagine the fun if it succeeds!

Here’s the TechCrunch article where I learned of today’s relaunch, and there’s also a short video there explaining how to use the user-modification tools to improve the search results:

Today, Wikia Search is beginning to suck a lot less. It has only indexed 30 million Websites, but it is finally rolling out a set of editing features that lets searchers reorder, add, remove, rate, annotate, and comment on results. It also makes it easier for anyone to try to game the search results. Although, as with Wikipedia, an spammers can be banned by the community. We should see some fierce edit wars on this one.

Here’s Jimmy himself, in Forbes:

Participation in Wikia search has the same incentive as anything online–it’s something people enjoy doing. People edit wikis not because it’s a charity, but because they have common interests and because it’s fun. Also, we’re making the barriers to participation very, very low. If you search for something and find a result that’s not relevant, it’s gone with a single click, and you’ve made the search results a little better.

Right now search is a closed box, and there are some plausible reasons for that, like preventing people from gaming the algorithm for commercial gain and keeping out malicious players. But can we create something that’s as open and transparent as possible and publicly accountable? That’s what we’re shooting for.

Two years from now, people may point at this post and go “LOL, whut?” But I’m hoping, instead, that everybody goes “You mean, search used to be done by brainless robots trying to follow clever rules? Wow, that must have really sucked.”

Because, it does.