Mahalo

By May 30, 2007

If the old saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ is true, then the new search engine Mahalo might be worth keeping an eye on.

While the human-powered search concept is far from unique (Yahoo started off as a human-powered directory and sites like About.com and upstarts ChaCha.com and Squidoo continue to rely on human guides) then the powers-that-be backing this project should raise some eyebrows.

Mahalo is the brainchild of Jason Calacanis, former director of Netscape and currently one of the world’s most famous bloggers and venture capatalists with close ties to the heavy hitters in Silicon Valley. Some of his most recent ventures include helping to promote the tech site Engadget to massive popularity as well as resurrecting the Netscape name to serve as a Digg-like news portal.

It has been rumored for some time that he has been working on a human-powered search engine due to his heavy consultations with executives at Google and Wikipedia. The site was simultaneously announced by several key players in the blogosphere as well as at Digg by founder Kevin Rose (who commands an almost cult-like following among the site’s users.) Additional financial backers of the project include Fox Newscorp (which owns MySpace) and a former executive of AOL.

The site is still in early Alpha form (Alpha is the new Beta, I guess thanks to Google’s overuse of the word.) So it’ll only be decent on major searches. But it’ll be interesting to see how it develops over time. As a user, I’ve long been a fan of editorial-powered content on short-tail searches as they can typically do a better job prioritizing what’s important. But as Danny Sullivan points out in his excellent analysis of the site, the problem in today’s Internet is scalability.

Plus, it’s going to be tough to make waves in a market increasingly dominated by Google – even though Calacanis wants to position the site more as a specialty engine. But as Wikipedia, Digg and other Web 2.0 sites have discovered, becoming a central source for links is a great way to rank well in Google (which gives you a strong, steady flow of traffic.) Do a 2-3 keyword search for virtually anything these days and it seems like Wikipedia’s always in the top 3 results. Do as search for any tech-related inforamtion and sites like Digg, Engadget, etc. usually come up. I see a very similar initial business objective with this site. Long term success? Not so sure.

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