SAN MATEO, CA: Wikia, a for-profit company co-founded by Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales, has debuted an open-source search engine that hopes to eventually compete with industry heavyweights like Google and Yahoo.
Bite Communications is working with the company to handle media relations surrounding the endeavor. The January 7 launch was preceded by a private alpha (or pre-beta) phase designed to attract tech-oriented volunteers to work on the site and to gather initial feedback.
"Since it's open source, they are looking for folks to take it and build their own search engines on top of it," said Trevor Jonas, an account director at Bite.
The alpha invitations were sent mostly to technical users who had already shown interest in the search engine through previous announcements. Wikia's founder Jimmy Wales announced the project in 2006 and has since released incremental announcements on the effort, noted Jonas.
In addition, Bite strategically released information about the private alpha to build buzz.
Media outreach targeted Silicon Valley bloggers, tech reporters, business media, and trade press. The effort also reached out to the mainstream press to promote the engine's consumer use, but Jonas warned reporters that the product would not be as polished as established search engines.
The messages conveyed to the media at the launch addressed the attention the engine received during its alpha phase.
"The big message is that it's finally open for everyone to play with, and it's a project we want people to come and help build," Jonas said. "Eventually the vision is that it would be a consumer-facing product people will use."
Wikia will measure the campaign's effectiveness by monitoring traffic to the Wikia search engine and whether targeted media helped drive volunteer activity.
"It's not just about how many articles we get," Jonas noted. "From the PR side, we get to see how our activities help drive a real business goal."