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The dogs of war

Wikipedia versus Google Round 1. Who are the REAL players? Asks Puneet Mehrotra.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2007 16:34 IST

"Civilizations… In ancient and modern times, wonderful ideas have been carried forward from one race to another...But mark you, my friends, it has been always with the blast of war trumpets and the march of embattled cohorts. Each idea had to be soaked in a deluge of blood..... Each word of power had to be followed by the groans of millions, by the wails of orphans, by the tears of widows."
Swami Vivekananda

When civilizations are formed they demand blood and gore. They demand flesh and tears. Ours is one under transit heading towards an electronic civilization. As wisdom gets transformed into bytes and flesh into encrypted code everybody wants to play king. Dominance is what they demand and wars are what they declare. The Microsoft versus Google versus Yahoo war I have been writing for years. Someone wants desktop dominance, another wants a total Web Experience dominance while another simply wants to play kingmaker. In this war of titans a new chapter now opens. The war between the lord of wisdom, Wikipedia and the God of seekers i.e. Google.

The war part later, first a little background.

The lord of wisdom - Wikipedia

Wisdom: An Apocryphal book consisting mainly of a meditation on wisdom; although ascribed to Solomon it was probably written in the first century BC.

Fast life, fast food and our electronic civilization demands fast wisdom. In fast times like ours wisdom as in Wordweb's definition "accumulated knowledge or erudition or enlightenment" can simply be sought at www.wikipedia.com

The Mecca of knowledge and wisdom

Wikipedia in this day and age is probably the biggest web encyclopedia. Started in 2001 Wikipedia was initially launched in English. It was soon joined by a French edition, and shortly afterwards by many other languages. In 2004 Wikipedia reached a total of 1,000,000 articles in over 100 languages. While the English Wikipedia is still the largest with more than 1,000,000 articles, there are well over 700,000 articles in 190 other languages, some quite large, and others just starting, with one or two articles.

As of December 2006, there are 174 Wikipedias which have more than 100 articles, 51 of which have over 10,000 articles, and 17 of which have over 50,000 articles. Following the English language Wikipedia, the German, French, Polish, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Portugese, Swedish, Spanish and Russian editions have over 100,000 articles each.

The people's wisdom

Wikipedia unlike previous encyclopedias works on the power of people i.e. the entire encyclopedia is an open source where anyone can contribute, edit or add an entry. The use is absolutely free to the reader. The funding of Wikipedia solely relies on people's power again. As on December 27, Wikipedia has collected $345482 as contributions from surfers who wish to see Wikipedia grow.

Wikipedia is not just a much respected source of information but also very sought after. According to data released last week by search engines Wikipedia is amongst the top 15 destinations online. Something very encouraging considering Paris Hilton and Tom Cruise rated Top 5 even in news searches ahead of Iraq and North Korea (check my last week's column We the people and our Trivial Minds). So if in these times of collective trivial consciousness if something like Wikipedia is amongst the top 15 destinations it speaks volumes of the information it contains.

Google - The god of seekers

Did I mention Google? Wait first let me bow down and pay my respects. That's Google for an entrepreneur like me and thousands of others. Google is the god of information seekers.  The ultimate dream of the webpreneur.

The intelligentsia connection of Google

When a university professor's son creates the most wonderful application in the world and goes to a become a rival to the biggest company under the sun, its speaks volumes of the kind of brains at work. The "thought network". The Stanford University Network and the Google connection is well known. In fact each Google application is absolutely superb. Right from design to development to usability, Google applications are absolute stunners. This simply isn't possible without the right brains at work. Why haven't the other companies, some bigger giants than Google managed to get even half the kudos? The answer is the thought network Google has. Absolutely wonderful.

One very good example is Google scholar. I covered it a few years ago when it was launched. Google has written beautifully about the academia in the true guru-dasksina tradition  (paying back your mentors and teachers). They still have it on their site today. Google Scholar says "We recognise the debt we owe to all those in academia whose work has made Google itself a reality and we hope to make Google Scholar as useful to this community as possible. We believe everyone should have a chance to stand on the shoulders of giants."

Wikiasari - Jimmy's pride page's envy

Jimmy Wales the man behind Wikipedia plans to launch a new search engine in the first quarter of 2007. Jimmy believes the project codenamed Wikiasari will someday overtake Google as the leader of Web search.

A combo of technology and human intervention

Jimmy's project Wikiasari would use a combination of open source and human intervention to deliver more relevant results than the algorithm-based systems used today. "Human intelligence is still the best thing we have, so let humans do what they do best, and computers do what they do best," says Jimmy. Wikiasari combines the Hawaiian word for quick, "wiki," with the Japanese word "asari," which means "rummaging search."

The irrelevance of Google

Let's face it the spam and irrelevant results that come in Google are more than just bugging. Any organisation which can deliver a breakthrough in this has something really big on hands. In fact it doesn't require a great web strategist to know the super strong niche of commercial searches is almost a virgin market. A combination of human intelligence and technology could be a winning combination. On the other hand, Google doesn't really believe in this. Google is an algorithm driven organisation and the domination of the web experience is what it is looking at. Look at any Google application from Google News to Google Finance to Google Scholar, algorithms have been the driving force. Google is doing the same as what Microsoft did a few years ago when Open Source came into the market. Verbally it hasn't admitted the self-denial but its strategy seems to be exactly that. Algorithms and more algorithms nothing else but algorithms.

The last word - war time equations

Is this really a battle between Google and Jimmy Wales? Well let's get this into perspective. The Google versus Microsoft versus Yahoo war we all are aware of. Most acquisitions, new launches etc in the last two years have been an off-shoot of this big war.  Now Jimmy Wales has a bright search engine idea. All very good. But a search engine requires big finances. It's almost impossible for a garage startup to get into mainstream search market today. So who is financing Jimmy's Wikiasari idea?

The funding is coming from Bessemer Venture Partners and Amazon.com.  Amazon.com, does the name strike a bell? Let's go back around a year ago. I had written a column titled "Google plans to nuke Paypal". Paypal is a part of the San Jose-based eBay.com which eBay bought for $1.3 billion in 2002. So that put eBay and Google as rivals. Enemy's enemy my friend. In other words Google and Amazon should have been friends. Consider the Amazon and Google win-win equation. Google Print gives business for Amazon. Amazon buying Adwords for every book in their inventory.  But alas that didn't work out in the big war time equation.

As on December 2006 Google has almost a 50% share in searches, Yahoo has around 25% and MSN comes at a third 8%. I believe the Wikiasari is a part of a much bigger game plan. As I said before someone wants desktop dominance, another wants a total Web Experience dominance while another simply wants to play kingmaker. Is Jimmy looking at becoming the king or the kingmaker? Probably time and Amazon will have a better answer.

Puneet Mehrotra is a web strategist at www.cyberzest.com and edits www.thebusinessedition.com you can email him on puneet@cyberzest.com