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Wikia set to carve a slice of search pie

The user-edited online encyclopedia pioneer seeks a 5% share with its open-source engine.

January 08, 2008|From Bloomberg News

Wikia Inc., the Internet company started by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, opened its search engine to the public on Monday in a bid to challenge Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

Wikia Search, which lets users edit and fine-tune its results, is now seeking contributors to help expand the service, according to a statement from the San Mateo, Calif.-based company. The system is open-source, meaning its underlying programming code can be shared freely.

Wales, 41, helped turn encyclopedia site Wikipedia into one of the 10 most visited websites in the U.S. Now he plans to use that popularity to attract people to his search engine, saying the company aims to win as much as 5% of the market. Google accounted for almost two-thirds of U.S. search queries in November.

"I don't think the big players in Internet search need to be worried about the likes of Wikia," said Scott Kessler, an equity analyst at Standard & Poor's in New York. "But they need to pay close attention to what the upstarts are doing" to avoid missing new trends and innovations. Kessler recommends investors hang on to Google and Yahoo shares.

Wikia's stance is that no one company or group should control the search market, Chief Executive Gil Penchina said in March. The Wikia search allows everyone access to its technology and lets users rank and discuss the search results.

Users also can create their own social networks through the site, making personal profiles, adding friends and sharing photos. Wikia, founded in 2004, has yet to turn a profit.

The company probably will start selling advertising to fuel sales growth, though it has no timetable for that because it's focusing on building its service, Wales said.

Wikia may have difficulty winning over users, who typically stick with the search engines they find helpful, Kessler said. Partly because of that, no new search entrant has achieved any "significant" market share for several years, he said.

Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., accounted for 59% of U.S. search queries in November, ahead of Yahoo's 22% and Microsoft Corp.'s Live Search's 9.8%, according to ComScore Inc., a market researcher based in Reston, Va.

Wikia's backers include online retailer Inc., Netscape Communications Inc. co-founder Marc Andreessen and venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners.

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