Afternoon Keynote: Jason Calacanis, Founder and CEO of Mahalo.com

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The SES Wednesday afternoon keynote featured Jason Calacanis, Founder & CEO of Mahalo.com. Known in the industry for his controversial take-no-prisoners approach to business and making friends, I anticipated an interesting session. Interestingly, Calacanis doesn’t see himself as a search marketer, although he’s a self-described white hat SEO when cornered. One of the first question he gets is whether or not Mahalo is like DMOZ, which is someone intentional, but not so much that the company will automatically fail. In fact he pointed out that both examples were popular and appreciated, but were neglected or abused by the respective owners. The second question he gets about his human-powered search engine is “how does it scale?” to which he responds that the Mahalo Greenhouse (paid user generated content) has been very productive in generated completed results on a large scale. In the first year, they generated 25,000 pages in the first year and 40,000 last year (all generated by over 400 distributed editors). The third question he gets centers around how the search results will be kept current. The current approach is to have a credibility ranking for editors and a public message board for site owners to discuss rankings openly with editors. Calacanis indicated that the site is virtually spam-proof, since all sites are manually-vetted. He added a centralized social media management interface for 12 sites (currently) called Mahalo Social, to which all new sites are reviewed (and 20 percent are accepted). Explaining how they evaluate and create search results, they rely on machines, friends and social media sites. In an example search for Blade Runner, you can see how your friends (and trusted Mahalo submitters) have ranked the sites, links, video and reviews from the social graph. In a related example, a search for Iron Man (a yet to be released movie) displayed users that are interested in seeing it. Additionally, Calacanis outlined the benefits of cross-referencing various profile elements and posts to establish and validate credibility. For example, Mahalo could pull in Netflix and Amazon wish list information to help determine wants and needs. Mahalo also incorporates content into Google and Yahoo! search results so users don’t have to give up their current search engine of choice. In the Q&A session, he was asked what he thinks about the profession of search engine optimization. He proposed SEO professionals are likely being hurt by short-term thinking (i.e. spending time ‘gaming’ the system instead of thinking longer term about where the market is going). I completely agree and have felt this way for years. I’m pleased to hear Calacanis and I share common ground. He thinks the ability to remix content is a huge opportunity and edge for Mahalo, and that Google and Yahoo are not likely to have a problem with it. Interestingly, he’s not a big fan of linkbaiting, so he’s turned it upside-down by only linking back to people that talk nicely about him…and it’s working. Time will tell if his vision for a game-proof, high-value search engine will change the game or flicker and fade out.

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