The ever expanding, and potentially lucrative, market of search engines may soon be welcoming another player into the fray. Last Friday, at OSCON in Portland, Oregon, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announced that his commercial startup, Wikia, had just acquired the distributed-computing web crawler Grub from LookSmart Ltd, and that he is currently putting the building blocks in place to create a community-developed search engine rivaling those of Yahoo and Google. The new search engine, thus far unnamed, will reportedly combine computer-driven algorithms with human-assisted editing, allowing for better results; for example, in the case of the word "palm," humans would be able to distinguish whether or not the word referred to the tree, the handheld computer, or the human body part, much better than any current algorithm. After indexing sites with Grub, search results from the new engine would be generated by the open source project Lucerne.
"If we can get good quality search results, I think it will really change the balance of power from the search companies back to the publishers," said Wales. "I could be wrong about this, but it seems like a likely outcome." The search engine plays part in a broader push by Wikia to promote the spread of free content publishing on the web. Wales hopes to create an entirely open search engine, making explicit the editorial judgments involved in all modern search engines, whereas companies like Google hide key aspects of how their search engines work to prevent abuse. Though the engine is still in pre-conception, Wales certainly has high hopes for his new project.