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Google (GOOG) - the greatest search engine in the galaxy - reports next week. Ahead of that report, Yahoo said that it's going to rank its results in a similar fashion to the way Google ranks them, theoretically resulting in higher click-through rates for Yahoo (YHOO). Meanwhile, a number of search engines are trying to be Google and Yahoo killers, including Wikia search, Jimmy Wales's new endeavor.

Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, is going to try to do to the big search giants what his Wikipedia venture did to Britannica - make it somewhat less relevant.

So, what did Google's director of research. Peter Norvig, have to say about Wales' pursuit? Here's our interview via email:

Me: What are the flaws of a wiki or community-driven search? And, what could be the advantages?

Norvig: Judgments from users are certainly important for search. In a way, hyperlinks (the basis of the Google PageRank metric) are user judgments, but the users are limited to webmasters. The more the merrier, so it is good to get feedback from others as well. Google and other search engines do use user feedback, mostly implicit feedback in the form of clicks, with some explicit feedback. We experimented with smiley/frowny faces in the toolbar, and with various types of feedback on search results. Currently we have a " Dissatisfied? Help us improve" link at the bottom of the page; at times we've asked for positive feedback as well.

There are two main challenges for community-driven search:

(1) Long tail. While there are many popular queries (See Zeitgeist), there are also millions of queries per day that we've never seen before.

(2) Spam. The more you get away from an academic setting and into one where there is money to be made, the more you'll have spam, deception, people trying to game the system.

It seems that the best approach is an algorithmic system that uses community-driven data when it is available and deemed reliable, and does not use it when it is not.

Me: Is SearchMash a Google wiki-styled search engine? If so, what is the goal of this new product?

Norvig: That's our playground for trying out new ideas -- of all kinds -- in a non-branded search engine where we are more free to experiment with different algorithms and user interfaces. It is useful because we don't have to adhere to the user's expectations for what Google is. It does include " Feedback: Were these results useful to you? ..." but it is not exclusively social/wiki-style; it is for anything we want to try out.

Me: So, are you testing out a wiki-styled search engine?

Feedback from users is important, and we will continue to use the sources of user feedback we have been using, and will experiment with more in the future. I think that Google Co-op Custom Search Engine may be the largest current collection of user-generated information for search.

Read my Net Sense column: In pursuit of relevance

Source: Google's Response To The Wikia Challenge