Mahalo - A Directory In An Identity Crisis

August 16th, 2007 | Categories: SEO, launch, marketing, markets, networks, off topic, search, social media, strategy, trends

Mahalo logoYou’d expect that when a new player enters a space, it hopes to attract users from competitor sites, right? That isn’t the case with Mahalo. But then again, Mahalo claims to be in a space that it isn’t actually in. You follow? Mahalo is a search engine in an identity crisis. Heck, it’s not even a search engine. It’s a directory. The search function is nothing more than a glorified shortcut to an individual directory page. “Guide Notes” and “Fast Facts” aside, this is really nothing more than DMOZ.

Mahalo lacks a dynamic, continuous crawl process - it’s static. Therefore, I don’t see how it can be called a search engine. Personally, I’m not convinced that you can define a search engine as such without an algorithm. Having said that, it is of my opinion that Mahalo won’t be able to compete with the big boys. Simply put, I can’t see people switching from Google or Yahoo. Mahalo has quickly realized this and since introduced Mahalo Follow. Now, users don’t have to switch services - they can continue to use Google or Yahoo at their leisure. In the event that a Mahalo result is available, it is automatically displayed in the sidebar.

It seems that Mahalo Follow is a good, passive approach for the company. It may even be the business model in the end (in my mind at least). I respect that the company has only been around for a few months, but the fact that this ’search engine’ lacks ’search results’ for many popular queries is inexcusable. I won’t even touch on unique, long tail queries…

On another note, Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis has been quoted as saying, “SEO is bullshit. If you generate a web page with good content, Google will rank the page properly”. Hmmm… that seems pretty hyprocritical. You see… directories thrive on SEO. Their very structure and nature are tailored for search engines. Even quasi-directories like Wikipedia and IMDB drive a significant portion of their traffic from search engines.

Consider this: both Mahalo and a given directory site contain unique pages with keywords and phrases stuffed into important areas such as the page title, URL, and header tags. In other words, Mahalo is a ’search engine’ dependent on other search engines. SEO is a primary traffic source. Instead of competing against Google and Yahoo, Mahalo has cleverly positioned itself to reap the benefits of these search giants via SEO.

Basically, Mahalo plans to profit from the search results of the other search engines.

If you are still not convinced, type in “Berlin vacation” or “save on your energy bill” into Google? Which directory ’search engine’ has a front page result?… You should never see a given search result in another search engine results page - it’s ridiculous. Need I say more?

What’s your take on the situation? Do you think Mahalo is a search engine?


  1. Neil Patel Says:

    You make a good point. At the end of the day Mahalo is just a “web 2.0″ directory. Even though it is human edited in most cases you’ll find more relevant search results on Google.

  2. Jason Says:

    You make some excellent points, and thank you for taking the time to think about what we’re doing (and to blog about it!).

    We are not an engine since we are made by humans, that’s true. However, we’re not a directory either since we present results in a search fashion.

    I’ve started calling Mahalo a “search service.” We are content, but we’re also navigation.

    We’re a hybrid service that we think compliments existing search. We’re for the top 20% of searches… the stuff that lots of people search for.

    If you compare our 9,200 pages heads up with any machine search engine we are hands down the best… of course, they have 10,000x the number of searches we have-at least!

    Frankly, we’re figuring it all out and the feedback from folks has been great so far. We’re about 10% of the way to a finished product… come back every three months and I think you’ll see the vision evolve.

    We’re just getting started… :-)

    best j

  3. Mark Evans Says:

    Mahalo and all the other search players not named Google need to do something different. Mahalo’s biggest hurdle is getting enough people to use it/embrace it so that it becomes increasingly useful. That’s the key because otherwise people will stick to Google even if they aren’t entirely happy with the results. Still, give Calacanis points for trying something new and different.

  4. Yves Salama Says:

    Google search works well when complexity/variety is welcome (cooking cod), not so well when complexity needs to be filtered out (what can I do with the cod that defrosted during the blackout last night). That’s why we still talk with our neighbor in the next cubicle. There is room for both, and lots more. Calacanis is brave and smart for trying.

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