Wikia Search has launched. Wikia Search is Jimmy Wales’ new project, an effort to apply an “open” Wikipedia-style approach to the creation of a search engine. I haven’t been following the project closely, so I don’t know the details of how it works. But despite my reservations about the “open and transparent” Kool Aid that Wales and so many others are selling, I am glad to see such experimentation. I have been thinking a lot lately about the critical role of indexing and search infrastructure, and coming to the conclusion that there is too much research focused solely on the technological aspects of such infrastructure, and too little creative thinking about the social, economic, and political dimesions of how we provide it. Current orthodoxy seems to assume that such infrastructure should be completely provided by private companies who profit from advertising. This seems “obvious” given the success of Google, and the failure of non-commercial systems such as libraries to cope with the web. Yet I wonder if this story is too simple, and whether Google’s dominance, coupled with the radical hypercapitalist ideology that has held sway the past couple of decades, has blinded us to alternative approaches. Certainly the disadvantages of the completely privatized approach are beginning to become apparent in many areas: the troublesome co-dependence of contextual advertising and link spam, the disturbing implications of perfecting personalized search, and the temptations for private search providers to trade for their own account. Analogies between the web and the physical world are always questionable, but I wonder what the U.S. would be like if it had entrusted the construction of its transportation network, signage, maps, and such solely to private companies funded by advertisers? Would that have been the best way to support the people and companies who depend on that infrastructure to find and be found? I doubt it.