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Mahalo 2.0: search engine will share revenue with users who help it grow

June 2, 2009 |  6:48 pm

Mahalo

With the launch of Mahalo 2.0, out this evening, the Santa Monica-based Mahalo.com Inc. will attempt to harness the online micro-labor market to help it build lots more pages for its "human-powered" search engine.

(As of this writing, the site was still a little fritzy.)

The new interface includes an intuitive "page editor" designed to make creating new entries a semi-automated cakewalk. Instead of fussing with arcane Wiki-type coding, anyone who wants to can choose an unclaimed topic -- say, "kraut dogs" -- and the system will present a list of online resources -- videos, news stories, blog posts, images -- that can be click-selected for inclusion on the new reference page. Users can then fill in a few details with their good old-fashioned writing skills.

Unlike the non-profit Wikipedia, which relies on an army of volunteers to stay current, Mahalo will compensate its worker bees by sharing the advertising revenue from each page with the user who builds and maintains it.

Is becoming a full-time Mahalo editor going to get you rich quick? Like anything else, that'll depend on how hard you want to work and how lucky you get.

Searches Google's semi-forgotten Knol encyclopedia also promises contributors a share of the revenue on pages they build. But stories of the Ferrari that Knol bought or the house that Knol built are still in short supply nearly a year after the product's launch.

Still, unlike the Google juggernaut for which Knol is but a petri dish, Mahalo is betting its future on the new system. The company used to pay a small stable of contractors $10 an hour to laboriously hand-code and monitor its pages. But now that its page base has reached more than 100,000, the site is becoming too big to maintain with a limited staff. So it's opening the doors to everyone with extra time and a yen for dollars.

According to Mahalo, only about a third of its pages earn over $10 a year in revenue -- but some can make drastically more. (This page on the 2009 stimulus package pulls in about $3,000 a month, the company says.)

Say you create and manage 500 pages in a year: That's $5,000 -- if you generously assume that all your pages are in the top 33% traffic-wise, and that none of them makes much more than $10.

But the company is hoping to promote a "gold rush mentality," in which users enterprising and lucky enough to stake out high-traffic topics will be rewarded with big money. And, the theory goes, the more pages its new labor force builds, the more traffic the site will attract; and the more traffic it attracts, the more advertising revenue there will be to split with users -- eureka!

In an interview, Mahalo Chief Executive Jason Calacanis said he hoped that the new system would be a "tipping point" for the 2-year-old company.

"We really want to get to the teens or 25 million uniques -- that's when the service becomes what I would say is very, very profitable," Calacanis explained.

The key to the new system, he believes, is the fast and simple way it will enable users to create new pages. With the need for coding gone, the process becomes a series of quick decisions about which bits of online content they want to include. (Plus a little of the aforementioned "writing.")

"Basically, we're putting humans on top of the search process that machines are doing," Calacanis said.

"This is all coming from APIs from other search engines," he added, referring to the content that the page editor pulls from around the Web and presents to page creators. "It's sort of like, here's your color palette, now paint something."

-- David Sarno

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