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Calacanis Launches Human-edited Search Engine

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Jason Calacanis, former CEO of Weblogs Inc. and GM of Netscape, has revealed his latest project: a human-edited search engine/wiki/directory called Mahalo.

The idea is to hand-craft search results for the top search queries. At launch (in Alpha, meaning "not ready for users, but looking for feedback"), Mahalo has results for 4,000 terms, and expects to have 10,000 by the end of the year. There are currently 40 editors on staff, with 100 planned by the end of the year. Calacanis, currently an "entrepreneur in action" at Sequoia Capital, is the CEO of Mahalo. Investors include Sequoia, Elon Musk, and Newscorp.

Calacanis has no pretensions about replacing Google, since the human-edited model would not scale to match the billions of pages in Google's index. Instead, he looks at Mahalo as a way for searchers to get a better answer for top queries, while defaulting to Google for those not served by Mahalo.

"Google's mission is to index the world's information; our mission is to curate that wonderful index," Calacanis said in a statement. "It's my belief that humans can play a significant role in the development of search results and we're going to try to figure out exactly what that role is over the next couple of years. I am really looking forward to hearing what people think of the Alpha."

The idea is similar in certain ways to what About.com did with its guide sites, what the Open Directory Project was once, or what Squidoo or Wikipedia hope to become. Even with answers for only 10,000 terms, Mahalo's editors face a daunting task of keeping those terms updated, while adding newly popular terms.

But Calacanis has a track record of keeping a large team motivated, with more than 300 bloggers in the Weblogs Inc. Network at one point.

Another challenge, faced by all new search engines, is getting people to change their habits and try something new. Calacanis is counting on a good user experience and word-of-mouth to do that.

The site will be monetized with Google AdWords, and Calacanis has no immediate plans for Mahalo to sell its own ads. There is a way for users to suggest sites to a guide as answers to specific queries, but Calacanis – no fan of SEO – has said that process will be heavily monitored to prevent gaming of the system.

Track the coverage of Mahalo on Techmeme.


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