Mahalo, which means 'thank you' in Hawaiian (all well and good, but how is it pronounced?) has just launched in Alpha mode. Danny has a good write up of it over at Search Engine Land, so I'm adding my two pennies worth over here. The idea behind Mahalo is that human beings are helping to craft the answers you get. They're hoping to cover 25,000 top search terms - so far they have done about 4,000 and they're doing about 125 a day with a view to getting that up to about 200 a day.
Now, when you do a search, and I tried one on Martin Luther King you get various results back for you to look at. There's the Mahalo Top 7, blogs and articles, biographies, a timeline, organizations, videos, audio archives, historical writings, photo galleries (way down the page!), criticism, merchandise and related searches. Next to certain results are icons to indicate that it's a 'Guide's Choice' or a warning. There are 26 (count them) different warnings. These cover things such as auto playing music, ad heavy, not safe for work to the rather more insane 'ugly site'. I was a bit taken aback by the 'portions in foreign language' warning. I guess that means anything that isn't American then. Well, good to see the bias coming out early.
Over on the right is a guide note with fast facts, and the ability to email the page to someone. Users can also recommend links as well, which are checked by 'the experts' before they are included. If you run a search for something that they've not yet done an expert search on Mahalo links directly into Google. Yes... the experts, or more accurately as far as Mahalo is concerned, 'guides'. Well, you get to see who has hand crafted the result that you're looking at. Rupak did the one for the MLK result. Rupak is 'an actor and graduate of Harvard'. As well as being a guide on MLK, he's also pretty fluent on such diverse subjects as Bill Gates, Las Vegas Hotels, Madrid Hotels, Moscow restaurants, Johnny Depp, the South African National Football team, and 200 other results.
Now, I really don't want to criticise Rupak - I'm sure he's a great guy, clever and knows about a lot of stuff. However, am I going to trust his work? I have very little to go on, other than his site and IMDb entry. The list of stuff that he's written results for really make me think that he's done so because he likes or has an interest in those subjects. Not that they're in the top 25,000 or so results. Maybe I'm doing them a disservice here, but would YOU expect the 'South African National Football Team' to be a subject that high up in the listings? No. Neither do I. So what's the *real* criteria here? Makes you wonder a bit. Moreover, and again no criticism of Rupak, but you're not going to get someone that expert in that many subject areas, particularly ones that are so diverse. Not a real issue if it's finding out about Johnny Depp, but for something more serious - I'm just not going to go there. I'll stick with rather more reputable sources, like the Librarians' Internet Index.
Another concern here is that these queries are relatively speaking small in number. I had to try quite hard to come up with one that actually worked (rather than default to one of the examples on the screen). No, not even the good old standby 'internet'. There isn't an answer for 'internet'! Not actually that surprising really, because it's a huge subject area. So you'd expect to narrow that down by adding in some more search terms. Except... that doesn't work. Martin Luther King as a search does just fine. Martin Luther King birthday gives you an 'oops! We haven't hand-written a result page..' Now c'mon guys... you can't tell me that you're not clever enough to work out what to do in that situation. What it means of course is that I have to do the exact opposite of what I should do when I'm searching, and think more broadly in the hope of hitting lucky. Once again the user is at the mercy of the search engine, which isn't a step forward. If I need to go to Google to get the results, why don't I just do that in the first place? Calacanis is going to tell me that I should continue to go to Google for the long tail results, but visit his search engine for more indepth stuff on the things that are popular, to get specialised answers.
Except that I'm not going to get specialised answers. I'm going to get stuff on Lost, or Paris Hilton, or Disney World, or Pizza. All well and good, but it's not exactly cutting edge stuff here is it?
Mahalo isn't the only search engine doing this sort of thing. Bessed does it as well. Have to say that impresses me even less than Mahalo - my MLK search brings up 'Jewelry Making' as the first result. Admittedly 'Lost' gives me the TV series as the first answer, with 46 sites listed, together with the ability to leave comments and add in more results. I'd say that Mahalo comes out slightly better with the options that it provides for me. (As an aside, the guide that wrote the answer to Lost has also written an answer for Lost characters. This is, to my mind, increasingly becoming a joke. Sure, 'Lost characters' is a related search for the 'Lost' search, but I've got to either search for that, OR the names of the actors, but NOT the names of the characters themselves. This isn't a search engine - it's looking for a needle in a haystack!)
If I want human intervention I think that for the time being I'll stay with the tried and trusted - LII and virtual libraries listed at Pinakes. They at least know what they're doing. I'm not yet confident enough to say that Mahalo does.