Mahalo: Human Powered Search?

Jason Calacanis, who’s blog I’ve been reading for a while now, has been developing a new project, but has been pretty quiet about it. Today he revealed Mahalo – a “human-powered search engine”. This is a well funded company (they have gone through two rounds of funding already), Calacanis has said that they can survive for four years with no revenue.

I took it out for a quick test spin, and the results do seem OK. I would think if you are searching for a popular topic and want some general overviews of things, it would be a good place to start. Is it going to replace Google for my everyday searching? No way. The main reason is they don’t have enough topics covered yet. They currently have about 4,000 topics covered, and they plan to have 10,000 by the end of the year, and 25,000 by the end of 2008. Even when they do get more topics, there are just too many searches I do for very specific topics for it to replace a regular search engine.

I don’t understand why they call themselves “human-powered search”. This is a directory plain and simple. Mahalo is doing what Yahoo! Directory and dmoz have done in the past. I think, however Mahalo seems to be adding some nice features on top of the basic list of links that most directories offer. The categorized links are a nice idea. They also include videos and pictures on the page. But it’s still a directory.

People also have been comparing this to Wikipedia, but I don’t really think they are similar. Wikipedia is a content-based destination site, Mahalo just contains pointers to content. Wikipedia pages get a lot of links right now because people often link to the content pages. Mahalo isn’t going to get the same type of links that Wikipedia gets. Mahalo won’t be challenging Wikipedia for search engine rankings any time soon.

Right now when a topic isn’t covered, Mahaolo provides search results from Google. This is better than a “sorry, we didn’t find anything”, but I think this could be more useful. I would personally love to see any not found result automatically redirect to Google. This way I would be much more willing to search using Mahalo, knowing that if it didn’t know anything about the topic, I would see my regular Google search results. I always have 100 results displayed on Google, and I like to see the result right up on top of the page. Right now as it is, when Mahalo doesn’t find anything the Google results are buried below teh fold so I have to scroll down, and then I only see ten results. Maybe this could be an option for power users. I could also see a nice Greasemonkey script being written to do this.

The only other complaint I have is that there aren’t very informative descriptions for each link. Right now you just get a site name and title for each link. I would prefer to see a one or two sentence description along with the link. This would give me a better idea of what to expect before I click on the link.

I’m sure as time goes on more functionality will be added to the site. Knowing Jason Calacanis, there should be some neat social elements to the site. There is a submit link function right now, which is pretty standard for a directory. there is also a message board feature for each topic, which seems like it will be very similar to Wikipedia’s discussion pages.

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