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Can search be crowdsourced? It's a question that Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, set out to answer when his for-profit company Wikia launched Wikia Search.

Wikia Search, which we reviewed here on the Econsultancy blog when it launched, tried to give users the ability to edit search results in much the same fashion that users can edit pages on Wikipedia.

The answer: crowdsourced search doesn't appear to have much appeal. Jimmy Wales announced on his blog yesterday that he was shutting Wikia Search down so that Wikia could invest more of its resources in products that are gaining traction.

Those products include Wikia itself (which provides wiki communities), Wikianswers (which is a wiki-style Q&A site) and Wikia's gaming and entertainment networks. As Wales points out, Wikia is one of the fastest-growing member community destinations according to Nielsen, although it's hardly a name brand like Wikipedia.

Wales still believes that there's an opportunity in the search space and writes:

In a different economy, we would continue to fund Wikia Search indefinitely. It’s something I care about deeply. I will return to again and again in my career to search, either as an investor, a contributor, a donor, or a cheerleader.

Of course, Wales enthusiasm belies the fact that launching a search engine is a tough proposition today. Google is still going strong and both human-based efforts like Wikia Search and algorithm-based efforts like Powerset (which was acquired by Microsoft) alike have been unable to create any real disruption in the market. That doesn't mean that there isn't an opportunity and room for improvement; I think it simply means that the average consumer is probably satisfied enough with his or her search experience enough of the time to avoid trying out new search engines.

But even if Wales' effort with Wikia Search was misguided in the first place as many critics argued when it launched, at least he had the good sense to see the writing on the wall and shut it down. I have a hunch we'll see more companies making similar decisions this year.

Photo credit: kerryj.com via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 1 April, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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