Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mahalo

As attentive readers will recall, this past January, I quit my old job clerking at the Laser Blazer and started a new gig, referred to here as the Shadowy and Mysterious Project Which Can Not Be Named (or SMPWCNBN, for short).

Well, today, I can finally reveal my Forbidden Job of Mystery. I have been working at a guide for the brand new search engine known as Mahalo, which you can check out for your very own self RIGHT NOW here at Mahalo.com. I encourage you to do so at your earliest convenience. If you'd like to see all the pages I have worked on since January, look here.

When I joined in January, I was Guide #3 (the less fortunate Guide #4 entered the room an eventful 12 seconds after me). As of now, I'm working on a team of about 30 guides, with an additional crew of developers, podcast engineers and other various and sundry online Internet-ish types. It has been quite a ride, one that I've wanted to tell you all about, Dear Readers, for months now.

But we were operating in stealthy mode, so I was not at liberty to reveal key details...like meeting PayPal founder and Mahalo investor Elon Musk, pitching the site to bigwigs from NewsCorp. and CAA, winning a $500 Apple Store gift card, which I promptly used to obtain a kickass new 20" iMac with all the trimmings (and, yes, I could a Video iPod as "trimming") or getting my picture on the front page of Valleywag, where some commenter immediately noted my physical similarity to a certain overweight bearded film director.

It has been an eventful couple of months to say the least. And now, after a lot of hard work, free lunches, triple espressos and long conversations on the nature and identifying characteristics of splogs, we're ready to launch a brand-new search engine.

BUT NOT JUST ANY SEARCH ENGINE!

Seriously, Mahalo is going to change the way you all think about search. I swear. Honest.

For those of you who don't already know this, your popular search engines...your Googles, your Yahoos, and to a lesser extent, your Asks, they all function via the same mechanism. You type in a term and a sophisticated computer program sifts through the many millions of web pages out there looking for keyword matches.

Now, some of these programs are extremely clever. In fact, "semantic search" is fast becoming all the rage, which allows computers to read the way humans do, scanning collections of words for meaning rather than strictly keeping to keywords. Over time, Google's results have become more and more accurate, and they still do pretty well if you're looking for pictures of a celebrity or movie times or word definitions.

But, necessarily, humans will always be better at this than machines. I can use my creativity and my knowledge of a topic to deduce what another person would be looking for with more accuracy AND flair than any machine. If you type in "large hog" on the Internet today, all Google knows is that you're looking for a pig and you're looking for a page with the word "large" on it. Maybe it'll be a bit more clever and look for pages which appear to use the word "large" to describe a "hog," but that's a big maybe.

Also, you'll get lots of spam. Cumbersome-porcine-animal-photos.blogspot.com will probably come up. Maybe a few sites that look like they're going to be good but then turn out to have one or two outdated bits of information amidst a sea of Google ads. A bunch of sites that aren't what you're looking for - "Review: Wild Hogs Largely a Waste of Everybody's Valuable Time." Then maybe, maybe, if enough people are also looking for it, a link to the photo you really wanted.

But I'd know right from the start that this is really what you're looking for.

Now, imagine that for every search you'll do all week on the Internet, if there were someone on the other end actively trying to figure out what you wanted and finding it for you without all the legwork and irritation. That's Mahalo - human-powered search. Because humans are better.

Have you seen these Ask.com billboards that talk about "the algorithm"?



They're not kidding. All their results are based on algorithms; very smart computer programs. But, you know...not too smart...

All Mahalo results are based on myself or one of my co-workers ACTUALLY SEARCHING THE INTERNET and finding the things you want for you.

This is a powerful idea when you start to consider the ramifications. If Wikipedia is a way to catalog all of the world's information, this is really a way to curate all the world's information. I don't need to tell you that the Internet has an ridiculously massive amount of stuff on it, but no one is getting the most out of it, because 3/4 of total Internet time is taken up with getting to where you want to go. In the time it takes you to search something on Google, and IN LESS TIME than it takes to search for something on Digg or Del.icio.us, Mahalo can pretty much get you where you want to go.

Okay, so that's the sales pitch. The reality is, just as I said, this is a ridiculously massive job. Mahalo as of now has a bit over 4,000 pages. When we hit 10,000, we'll enter Beta mode. When we get to 25,000, we're officially ready for action. You'd be surprised how far 4,000 pages will get you. We already have every major sports team, most notable politicians, tons of fashion labels, products and gadgets, a bevy of film stars, TV stars, musicians, shows, movies and bands. My brother, who's also on the job, managed an entire section of Food pages, from Brie Cheese to Jack in the Box. (Check out the Tacos page, which helped introduce me to my new neighborhood haunt, Don Felix.) Most hot vacation destinations are done; most popular car models already have pages.

It's not terribly hard to "beat the system." Perhaps the most popular search that leads people to this blog, the centrally-important "albino porn," does not yet possess its own Mahalo page. I'll get to it, maybe next week. But you get the next best thing - Google results - and the chances are, if people start searching for something, we'll get to it soon enough.

I just realized that I've babbled on at you at length already, and haven't yet discussed any of the other amazing, totally blown-out Mahalo features. So I will quickly run down more about teh new search hotness:

  • Pages have Fast Facts in case you just needed to know something quickly, like the number of people who listen to Rush Limbaugh each week (20 million) or what day we celebrate National Corn Dog Day (the first Saturday of March Madness)
  • Searches that have not yet been completed can be requested, and we'll e-mail you back when they're done
  • Users can submit their own recommendations for pages we might have missed
  • Mahalo pages are easy to e-mail to friends
  • Mahalo pages often feature useful add-ons like videos, RSS feeds and stock charts right there on the page
Obviously, after putting in so much work on this thing, I'm anxious to see how people will react. But having said that, I'm fairly confident in the quality of Mahalo itself. The thing is just faster and more useful than any search engine, provided you get a result for your search. (And 10,000 search terms accounts for a full 25% of all Internet searches, so your chances of success are pretty good, even on the first try.) I'll be saying much more about all of this in the days and weeks to come (as well as possibly working on another blog in addition to CBI, all about the world of search), so stay tuned for more. But we're launching even as I post this at the Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference, so I at least wanted to get the word out. Enjoy.

3 comments:

Justin said...

WOW. Congrats, Lonnie!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like fun...how can I become a guide like you? I don't see where to sign up?
Mahalo :)
Jan

KATHY said...

I am a guide at Mahalo, and I wanted to come by and say thanks for the great post! This is the best search engine that I have ever used, let alone worked for! Just wait, it will be the biggest search engine on the web in no time. if you have not tried it yet, get over there and give it a try, it "ROCKS"! PTG KATHY

http://www.mahalo.com