Wikia is announcing on Tuesday that it is closing the Wikia Search product. The service was intended to be a user-generated search engine, through which users could influence the rankings of results for all other users.
Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikia and driving force behind Wikia Search, fully expected the development of Wikia Search to be a "long-term project." The current economy, however, has forced him to "reassess everything," and "do what we need to do to get to profitabililty."
Wikia Search was not on the right trajectory. "This one is too far away," he said. "It was going to take at least a another year to two before it's usable by the public, and we can't afford that right now."
Even given a generous time frame for success, Wikia Search was not making its numbers. With only 10,000 unique users a month over the past six months, Wales said, it was hard to justify the resources being put into it. Two full-time employees will lose their jobs as the project is shuttered.
Wikia's other projects, Wales said, have 30 million unique users a month. Other projects, such as Wikia Answers, are growing very quickly.
Wales, who said "I'll return to this again when the economy is good," still believes that search needs to be open, in contrast to engines like Google's whose search algorithms and methods are kept proprietary, for the most part.
In November, Google launched SearchWiki, a feature that lets users prioritize, erase, supplement, and annotate search results. Google remembers the changes a user has made to search results via SearchWiki, so results for repeat searches will reveal the same customizations and notes.
Consolidating around strength
Coincidentally, while Wikia is exiting the search business to focus on user-generated reference works, Microsoft is leaving the reference business. Its venerable professionally created online (formerly CD-based) encyclopedia, Encarta, is running out of gas.
The company announced on Monday that it plans to close the service. Reacting to this news, Wales said it's "disappointing to see a center of knowledge going away." His company has been trying to contact Microsoft about making Encarta data available under a free license, he said, so some of it could be incorporated into Wikipedia.
Wales says Wikipedia could, theoretically, absorb all of Encarta. But due to the relatively small size of the reference, "the community probably wouldn't find it useful. However, the images might be useful," he said.