Mahalo is a new human-powered search engine, brought to you by Weblogs Inc founder Jason Calacanis, which went live today in ‘alpha’ test mode.


Mahalo’s big idea is that human edited search results can trump those produced by an algorithm, and the site aims to put together results for the top 10,000 search terms.

This kind of approach has been tried before – Ask Jeeves used to work in this way, but its drawback is the number of editors required to cover a wide range of search queries.

Calacanis has a team of 40 employees working on the project at the moment, and says he will expand this to 100 by the end of the year, a plan that is both a statement of intent and worryingly reminiscent of yore, when startups bagged the big money and then quickly ramped up headcount. Let’s hope the revenue streams aren’t too far away (presumably Adsense is a non-starter!).

Mahalo aims to improve on Google’s search results by filtering out spam sites, sites that scrape content from others or are too ad-heavy, or contain any adult or hate content. So far, his team has produced results for 4,000 search terms - a drop in the keyword ocean. No wonder he needs more people.

Some of the results are impressive – a search for Berlin hotels on Google will give you a lot of hotel aggregation sites and not much else.

Mahalo search results

Search for the same term on Mahalo and the results are far more useful – you get the top 7 recommendations, then a list of actual Berlin hotels sorted into categories – luxury, moderate and affordable.

The results for any search on a band are pretty good too – lt breaks the results down into top 7 sites, interviews, news and reviews, lyrics, photos and videos.

In addition, Mahalo puts icons next to results to indicate a warning (pop-ups, site that plays audio etc), give you information or to recommend a site. All good.

Mahalo’s Grade A investors include Sequoia Capital (which Calacanis joined as ‘entrepreneur in action’ last year), Elon Musk, Newscorp, CBS Corporation and Burda Media, with a total of around $16m raised on a $100m pre-valuation. Not bad for something that’s still in test mode and is unproven technology (unproven as in ‘will it cope with scale?’).

Still, we wonder whether Jason has looked up ‘Mahalo’ on Google. The top result provides the following warning on the usage of mahalo and aloha, which are sacred words in Hawaii: “Be careful to use them ONLY if you truly feel mahalo or aloha within. Do not exploit these words for personal gain, and neither cheapen, nor trivialize their use by verbalizing them carelessly or without sincerity.”

That’s due diligence for you, folks…

Further reading:

Calacanis in spat with Wired’s Vogelstein