Jason Calacanis at the MMK07 conference – Mahalo Greenhouse announced

Jason is the Founder and CEO of new “human powered” search engine Mahalo. He was previously founder of Weblogs which he sold to AOL.

Jason is talking about the environmental crisis on the internet as over aggressive marketers have come onto the web and polluted it. Look what has happened to email – same thing happening on the web now.

It is “SEO spammers” who are ruining the web – Google indexes all the information on the web – when they started 95% of that was good – now say 5% is good. The irony of it is that the search engines have brought this on themselves – legitimate sites needed ways to correct the search results and the search engines wouldn’t help them – hence they turned to SEO – which can (and has been) equally be used for sites that are NOT legitimate.

Jason is arguing that if your system is open this is bound to happen – so we need to start closing systems.

Blogs are more closed and self policing in this sense – but Jason thinks even the blogosphere is on the verge of being destroyed.

Jason cited a number of examples of fake blogs where corporates are getting marketing wrong and creating spam – the famous HP one came via PayPerPost.

Jason believes that we need to stand up to the spammers as an industry – that has got to help, but the other side of the answer is that companies like HP need to learn what types of marketing will work in social media and what won’t.

This takes us back to Cluetrain.

Then to Mahalo – one answer to the spammers is to human edit the search engine. What I don’t yet understand is how you get the inclusiveness you need without opening up to spam in some fashion.

Mahalo is answering this in three ways:

  • employ lots of people to build out their index
  • open it up in a wikipedia style fashion with Mahalo Greenhouse – which Jason just announced today. Anyone can apply to be a part time help at Mahalo. If you are accepted you do an
    index for your interest area – I might do one for Chelsea football club
    for example – the Mahalo full time folk check your work and if they
    like it they move it to the permanent index. In an interesting twist they are using participation in social media sites as the main qualifying criteria.
  • drop you into Google if they can’t find an answer for you – this is what happens if you search on brisbourne ;(

The results sound pretty powerful – a Mahalo search on Paris hotels yields an editorially driven top seven links – only one of them – Tripadvisor – makes the top 40 on Google.

It seems to me that Mahalo will stand or fall based on whether they can get the Mahalo Greenhouse model working. If they get it right the prize is huge. A lot of smart people think they have a good chance – Mahalo’s backers include Mike Morritz of Sequoia who counts Yahoo! and Google amongst his earlier investments.

A couple of other points:

  • Mahalo takes out the need for SEO by welcoming open dialogue with site owners. Again the obvious question is how that scales.
  • In a nice touch they will use the Greenhouse to recruit people – anyone who is a productive part time contributor to the Greenhouse will be targeted to join the company
  • They are adding 500 search results at Mahalo per week and are at 5,000 today

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