Jason sees value in Mahalo for the long tail of users

I love that Jason comes out and says “Mahalo is not for you” to the geeks:

“The fact is, if folks who are in the .001% of the internet population are in love with our service that’s probably a BAD SIGN.”

He goes on to say:

“[…] what the vast majority of people want from search is to type a word into a box and get an organized list of high quality links. That’s it. It’s that simple, and that’s what we’re doing.”

There’s a reason why Jason was a good fit for AOL–and a tremendous loss for AOL when he left–because Jason naturally “gets” the ideas that the AOL founders have known for almost 20 years now.

AOL Keyword dialog screenshot

It goes back to something I’ve argued with user interface designers on and off for years: users don’t want to browse the web, they want to find information. Getting more than one result back means having to make a decision and most people aren’t educated or informed enough to make the decision as to which path will result in finding what they’re looking for. They don’t have time to navigate down until they reach a dead-end and back-button their way to the decision point and try again.

Sometimes, I wonder if Mahalo’s going to miss the mark because they still give users too much to choose from. This is why Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button is such brilliant genius–if only Google’s search result quality were much, much higher. Once Mahalo’s data set grows sufficiently large, it might be useful to just redirect people to the top link instead of serving them a results page. Yes, this means you can’t monetize on eyeballs with paid display ads, but perhaps you could revenue share with the destination that you send users to.

This is why I kept wanting to launch a little skunk-works project inside AOL to build out keyword.aol.com … which would just reuse their existing keyword database and redirect users, so if you went to keyword.aol.com/sports it would redirect you to the page that is already programmed as the destination for KW: Sports.  No real additional “work” would be done by the editorial team–just repurposing the existing data.

Oh well, AOL may have missed the boat on this one but maybe Mahalo has a chance to win here. I can’t wait to see how things turn out.

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