Wowd doesn’t simply report on what its users are doing in real time, as some Twitter search engines do, for example. Instead it uses its own algorithms that balance a page’s freshness against its apparent popularity. When searching in Wowd, a user can choose to see results ranked by popularity or by freshness. In either case, the page will automatically update and adjust its results over time if the user leaves it up.
Wowd contains several ways for users to discover new content, including a “hot list” on its front page that simply shows the top sites being visited by users. Later, Drummond says, the site will add more ways for people to discover what’s popular in particular interest areas.
Other search companies, for example the German company Faroo, have also tried to use a distributed architecture to obtain more real-time search results. Faroo’s CEO, Wolf Garbe, says that the approach significantly reduces the costs for a search startup. He also believes that any real-time search engine will have to depend on users in some way, since even a company with resources as large as Google’s can’t crawl the Web anew every five minutes.
Petar Maymounkov, a researcher at MIT who helped design the Kademlia algorithm, says that Kademlia is suited to Wowd’s architecture. However, he notes that Kademlia isn’t well-protected against malicious users who may want to game the system. Whether any distributed architecture can be secure when there’s no central control over who participates remains an open question, he says.
Maymounkov adds that it will be interesting to see how well Kademlia works as the foundation for a search engine. In the 10 years that the algorithm has been used, he explains, it’s mainly powered file sharing. And since file sharing is most often used to obtain free movies and music, he says that users of such software tend to be willing to donate a lot of computing power and to put up with some hiccups in availability to retrieve that information. User expectations for a general search engine may be different, he says.
Wowd “is a nice idea, but they’ve got some work to do,” says Daniel Tunkelang, cofounder of a search company called Endeca, based in Cambridge, MA. The preview version of the site, in his opinion, doesn’t provide enough high-quality search results to make it stand out from other attempts at real-time search. As more users sign up after the site’s launch, this may provide better-quality data and improve the results, Tunkelang says, adding that he’s reserving judgment until then.