It wasn't but a few months ago that Jason Calacanis told us that search engine marketing was a bunch of hooey. (Actually, he wasn't nearly that nice.) In fact, he went so far as to tell us that search, as we knew it, was about to be crushed by a mysterious new offering that would change the rules of information retrieval forever. Then we all got a look at Mahalo and I've got to say, I don't see a lot of folks bowing down to chant "we're not worthy."
Calacanis has launched the "alpha" version of Mahalo and the reception has been...cool. (And I don't mean "cool" in a "super-rad-hang-ten-dude" kind of way.) You see, Mahalo's "secret weapon" is a team of human editors that are going to provide lists of the best sites for any given search term.
The Mahalo site explains:
Mahalo is the world's first human-powered search engine powered by an enthusiastic and energetic group of Guides. Our Guides spend their days searching, filtering out spam, and hand-crafting the best search results possible. If they haven't yet built a search result, you can request that search result. You can also suggest links for any of our search results.
Umm... DMOZ? Yahoo's Directory? About.com? The original Ask Jeeves? Am I the only one having flashbacks here?
I won't go into a lengthy explanation of how their failures should have served as a lesson for anyone else that wanted to launch this type of service because Danny already did it so well.
Danny also feature a bit of input from Jason in terms of what Mahalo's goals are (to supplement, not replace engines like Google), how he's going to fund the project (through ads and venture capital) and when someone might turn to the service for search results:
"It's not the goal to wipe out Google or be the first choice. Google is the new ocean. You are much better to work with them. We don't see them as competitive. We've got 4,000 search terms, we're not going to replace them, we know that. But if you compare any of these terms, it's better to start with us,"
Ok, but how do I know which 4,000 terms you have results for? Why would I chance you when I KNOW I'll get results someplace else. Besides, who says that your editors have the same taste in sites that I do? Calacanis has an answer for that, but I'm not sure it's a good one.
From the LA Times coverage:
Calacanis, a New York native who lives in Brentwood, said Mahalo didn't have to keep up with everything — just things that most interest people.
"It will take some time to complete, but when it's done, it will be glorious," he said. "Until then, we invite people to compare our results with any search engine out there. For results that we do have, they're going to be five to 10 times better because humans have thought about them."
I wonder if anyone that has any understanding of search has pulled Jason aside to whisper "Dude...search results...they're never...like...DONE dude...they change...like all the frigging time!"
Besides, where are editors going to find these sites? Are they going to sift through every single site that gets submitted? Sounds like that would take an awful lot of time and and awful lot of editors. Unless he's outsourcing it to at-home grandmothers in Siberia, that's probably going to cost a pretty penny. Even if his team tries to make the process go a little faster, they'd do it by what? Going to Google and picking out their favorite results?
The "good news" is that if Mahalo doesn't have an answer to your search result, you can request that they create one. They'll even let you know when the search result is created.
Wow! Talk about revolutionary! Now instead of going to Google and typing in a few words and scanning the page, I can shoot off an email, wait an undetermined amount of time, eat bonbons and rejoice when someone else decides that they think I might like!
This is history in the making folks.
Ok, so maybe I'm being a little hard on Jason. Maybe you're feeling like you need a towel to sop up all the sarcasm. It just seems sort of funny to me that the man that has spent so much time slamming search engine marketing seems to have so little idea of just what it takes to make a good search engine.
With all of that said, I do wonder if I'm the only one who finds this result to be more than a little funny...
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