Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales on March 31 pulled the plug on Wikia Search, a community-based search engine that relied on user participation to rank results.
"While I personally believe in the opportunity for free software to make serious inroads into the search space, our project, Wikia Search, has not been enjoying the kind of success that we had hoped," Wales wrote on his personal blog. "In a different economy, we would continue to fund Wikia Search indefinitely. It's something I care about deeply."
According to Nielsen Online, Wikia had been the fifth-fastest-growing member community destination in February 2009, with its 3.75 million users representing a 172 percent increase over its 1.38 million users in February 2008. In the same survey, Twitter came in first, followed by Zimbio, Facebook, Multiply and then Wikia.
Wikia was founded by Jimmy Wales and Angela Beesley in 2004, first under the name 'Wikicities,' which was shortened to 'Wikia' in 2006 after a round of venture funding. While parts of the site had been experiencing growth recently, including Wikianswers, Wikia Search had reportedly been receiving only 10,000 unique visitors per month.
Unlike Google,Yahoo and other search engines, which rely on pure mathematics for determining their search results, Wiki Search relied on user rating entries to determine their positions in the rankings; the Wiki community could also delete, add to and comment on the various entries.
Just as defenders of Wales' flagship product, Wikipedia, say that community participation keeps that site's entries correct and continuously updated, so too the users of Wikia Search would supposedly best determine what results belonged at the top of the search page.
Wikia Search originally launched from beta on Jan. 7, 2008. At the time, Wales told the Associated Press that social search would reduce "the sort of bottleneck of two or three firms really controlling the flow of search traffic."
Google, never a company to take a search-engine challenge sitting down, in November 2008 rolled out SearchWiki, a service designed to let signed-in Google users edit, reorder, remove and comment on search results. At the time of launch, Google publicly assured users that SearchWiki would in no way interfere with the Google search algorithm.
Despite Wikia Search closing its doors, Wales still holds out hope that community-based searching will again become an online reality. As he said in his blog, "I will return to again and again in my career to search, either as an investor, a contributor, a donor, or a cheerleader."