Mahalo : The New Search Engine

Last month, a company called Mahalo , inaugurated a search service with manually edited results. It started with several advantages: venture capital backing, 30 editors, systematic focus on the most commonly requested search terms, and the added idea of supplying Google’s search results for any search not covered by its own best-of-the-best lists.Mahalo now has pre-prepared pages for 5,000 terms related to entertainment, travel, health, technology and other subject areas. The company plans to expand its coverage to 10,000 terms by year-end, and eventually to provide results for one-third of the most common search terms.
The company is financed by Sequoia Capital, which knows something about the search business: It was an early backer of both Yahoo and Google. Sequoia, like other Silicon Valley venture capital firms, offers experienced entrepreneurs an office and salary to figure out an idea for a new start-up. It was while he was an entrepreneur in residence that Jason Calacanis had the inspiration for Mahalo. Mr. Calacanis, 36, published The Silicon Alley Reporter in the mid-1990s and went on to be a co-founder of Weblogs, a federation of blogging sites that was sold to AOL in 2005 for about $25 million. He took up residence at Sequoia in December 2006, founded Mahalo and gathered two rounds of financing, including backing from the News Corporation.

At the end of May, Mr. Calacanis unveiled Mahalo at the D: All Things Digital conference sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Calacanis said he has enough financing to provide five years of experimentation and refinements, but he has not disclosed the amounts.

A hand-built Mahalo search-results page has one conspicuous advantage over Google’s: grouping into subthemes, which make a page of links much easier to scan and to find items of particular interest. For example, Mahalo’s page about Paris Hilton, the site’s top search subject last week, arranges the recommended links into clusters including news, photos, gossip, satire and humor. The use of subject categories also eliminates the need to provide, as Google does, two-line text excerpts from the listed sites to provide clues about the site’s contents.

The Mahalo page about Ms. Hilton lists more than 80 sites. Each takes up only one line; grouped by subtheme, they are easier to skim than the 12 sites that fill the entire first page of Google’s search results.