OSCON Wikia, the latest effort from Wikipedia co-founder Jimbo Wales, has bought the distributed search software Grub from LookSmart for an undisclosed sum and open sourced it.
Wales, speaking here at OSCON, announced the move during a morning speech. He pitched Grub as being analogous to Seti@home in that users run the client software in the background on their PCs. Grub then indexes URLs and sends the information back to centralized servers. The software had languished under the stewardship of Looksmart, and Wales now hopes to make it a core piece of Wikia.
For the unfamiliar, Wikia is an attempt to create an open source rival to Yahoo!, Google or Microsoft.
"In search, we have a handful of proprietary places," Wales said, during his keynote. "They control the vast majority of traffic on the internet.
"Those search results are an editorial statement even if they are driven by an algorithm. We really have no idea how they are doing it. That process is kept deliberately secret."
So, Wikia will deliver open source algorithms to developers and work to create an open index of the internet. If the project ends up resembling Wikipedia, we don't hold out much hope of helpful search results.
"Together, we can all kick Google's ass," Wales said.
From where we sit, an open source search engine that turned up good results and was actually used by lots of people could end up as a very good thing. Google, in particular, has seized too much power with its vast knowledge of the world's desires. In addition, the company has not proven very able at protecting privacy on a satisfactory level.
Would Wikia be a better organization to hold such power just because its code was open? Not really, unless guarantees are made around the immediate destruction of search logs and the like.
You can find very little on Grub here. ®