Search engine startup Wikia launched Oct. 8 an API that lets programmers integrate content from popular sites such as Digg, Twitter and Creative Commons to improve the search experience.
Wikia co-founder and Chairman Jimmy Wales told me the WISE (Wikia Intelligent Search Extensions) platform is a kind of a "Facebook Apps for search," allowing third parties to create the mini-applications, or WISEApps, to help bring the content into Wikia.
"[WISE] is a really super-simple API that people can use to create little applications that provide people with better search results," Wales said.
The idea is to improve Wikia's search results, saving users the trouble of visiting Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Live Search or other search engines to find what they are looking for.
This sounds suspiciously like Yahoo's Search Monkey platform, which also lets programmers write applications that boost the relevance of search results.
Check out screenshots from new Ask.com and Hakia search engines here.
But Wales told me Search Monkey is basic compared with WISE, allowing users to customize the look of a search result. So, Search Monkey will return the same results, only prettier or more detailed. Wales said:"What we're doing is allowing for the creation of new search results. We want to see thousands of these [WISEApps], where for all kinds of searches you can get results that humans have actually reviewed, thought about, discussed and debated what the right keywords are that will return a group of results. That's really different from Search Monkey, which is just a cosmetic thing on top of traditional algorithmic search."Wales and Wikia approached several businesses with the WISE proposition and scored some key hits.The Digg WISEApp provides recent front page Digg stories directly within the Wikia Search results page. This is the big fish for Wikia; Digg users currently vote on more than 16,000 submissions each day, and the site has a beefy user base of 32 million.The Twitter WISEApp provides recent tweets for related queries. The Creative Commons WISEApp provides images for relevant queries. Other WISEApp creators include AccuWeather.com, Yelp, Kayak.com, Last.fm and Thomson Reuters.Wales Discusses Search Engine Wars, click hereSince Wales happened to liken WISE to Facebook, I asked him if Wikia approached Facebook to have the social network create a WISEApp. He said no, but didn't rule out the possibility. Developers interested in creating a WISEApp can access the Wikia sandbox to test their app and submit them to Wikia, which will look them over before publishing them online.Wales doesn't harbor delusions of grandeur to think that WISE will help propel the open-source Wikia Search project into Google or Yahoo territory for core search relevancy. But if WISE can improve Wikia's search relevancy, then it could be a viable alternative for folks tired or wary of searching Google.Wikia launched an alpha version last January that was shredded by testers, but in June the company improved the search capabilities and allowed users to begin editing the site en masse.Wikia joins Cuil, Powerset, Hakia, Mahalo and several other second-tier search vendors trying to carve their own shares of the market.