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Human search engine Jatalla – Interview with Shelly Harrison

jatalla human search engine in PRE ALFA

Jatalla is a prototype of human search engine I recently reviewed in a post. I was curious to know more about this initiative and asked Shelly to answer a few questions on search and web 2.0 in an interview I put together for my blog.

Different points of view and perspectives help better understand what is happening ๐Ÿ™‚

I invited Shelley to tell us a bit more about Jatalla and share some information about social networking from his perspective.

Q) Hi Shelly, would you like to introduce yourself and the Jatalla project ?

A) I’m basically just a “crackpot inventor”, practical but maybe not always. ๐Ÿ™‚
Jatalla began in January 1999, when work in wearable computing had me trying to integrate humans and computers. Frankly, I was kinda scared that — just as weapon tech always outruns shield tech — we might create computers that were smart but reptilian.

This got me thinking about an “artificial conscience” for computers. The problem was — with millions of different possible moral situations — how could mere software be adequate? And whose conscience should be the model, mine or yours?

My answer was to let the entire world collectively program the artificial conscience by submitting a term and a URL (a “lexivote”), the term being relevant to an ethical choice, and the URL that of a computer-friendly document, like XML. The whole thing sounds very ridiculous now, of course. But, in 2003, I finally realized the lexivote model would make an awesome search engine.

That’s how Jatalla began.

Q) Jatalla gives the user a “wiki” feeling: casting a lexivote, I feel like I am building a search engine — was that your intention ?

A) Yes. Jatalla is very consonant with the current explosion in wikis. Just as a site like Wikipedia gives users the ultimate control over content, the lexivote system asserts that we are a lot more effective collectively than we can be individually.

) Would you like to provide some technical details on how Jatalla works ?

A) It’s really just counting votes. When you do a search on Jatalla, every vote that has been cast that matches your search — character for character — gets counted in creating a list of results. Each vote is cast by a human being, so the entire relevance ranking is performed strictly by people.

So far, by the way, the results have vastly exceeded our hopes. We did a comparison of Jatalla results against those of conventional search engines and were amazed at how well Jatalla has performed, even with just a few users participating. Ten people are still way smarter than a thousand computers, and I don’t think that’s going to change soon.

) In theory, users should be advocates and use the tools made available to build Jatalla, but in practice personal value always precedes social value. How would you get people involved (and motivated) to build Jatalla ?

A) Self-interest has a lot to do with it. The whole SEO industry is based on people trying to get their websites to appear in search results. Jatalla provides a very direct mechanism for doing that.

Instead of having to figure out how to manipulate each different search engine’s “secret formula”, Jatalla users can simply cast lexivotes for their own site and get their users to do likewise. Jatalla rewards users who help others find relevant information, not those who can trick the latest search algorithm.

) How do you fight spam ?

A) So far, spam has been a nonissue. The CAPTCHA mechanism has worked fine, and we have a search-specific spam report button that allows Jatalla users themselves to police the site in much the same way that wiki users defend against vandalism.

) What is your opinion on Web 2.0hype or is there more to it ?

A) Well, Jatalla provides 100% user-generated, collaborative content, so it could hardly be any more “Web 2.0” than it is. So my opinion is probably a little biased! ๐Ÿ™‚

) How do you believe search and search marketing will evolve ?

A) If people rather than computers are doing the ranking, then simply having a good web site — one that is informative, useful and attractive — is the key to getting ranked. It’s not about clever arrangement of keywords and metatags, links and URLs. It’s about substance rather than manipulation. And I think that’s a good thing that will ultimately result in a better World Wide Web.

4 Replies

  1. Well done interview, it does sounds very professional. It would be nice if you could post some updates of Jatalla

  2. Haven’t heard from them in a while – I’ll gladly post any news should it come my way