Mahalo – A Powerful Tool in the Right Hands

by Karoli on September 12, 2007 · 9 comments

Jason Calacanis and I have not agreed on much of anything in the past and we may not in the future. However, when it comes to Mahalo, I agree with Robert Scoble: Technologies like this will kick butt over time.

Here’s how we came to appreciate what Mahalo offers:

  1. Daughter has an assignment due tomorrow in rough draft. The assignment is to argue that Steve Jobs is either a celebrity or a hero, within the set of constraints defined by her teacher.
  2. Daughter dutifully goes to Wikipedia and Google and begins research, figuring that the best place to find Steve Jobs info is on the internet.
  3. Four hours later, daughter has six pages of information and facts, and a daunting set of Google results to sort through. Part of her assignment is to cite at least four primary sources. Video doesn’t count, but a transcript of a speech or video does count.
  4. She easily locates a transcript of his 2005 Stanford commencement speech and the transcript of his keynote from last week introducing the new iPods. She doesn’t want the second one; she does want the first. She still needs three primary sources.
  5. I decide this is a great opportunity to give Mahalo a spin. The reason it occurs to me to do that is because the results are compiled by people and claim to be the most credible links around that search term. Here is Steve Jobs’ Mahalo page. On one page, we have a nicely compiled list of primary and secondary sources, multimedia, and links to images and information. One of the primary sources she wanted was the piece Jobs wrote in February about music and DRM.
  6. Instead of picking through Google searches, DG is wrapping up page four of her paper and polishing the spelling, formatting, and cites.

Here’s the thing: All of this information is definitely discoverable on Google or Wikipedia. But the Mahalo page saved her hours of time reviewing and verifying that she had a credible source, because the top information links off to the primary sources. In this case, that was Apple, the official Wikipedia entry, Jobs’ article on music, videos of his keynote speeches, and so on. In one place, ready for the user to click into and use. The middle sections with news and articles had a good mix of information, including his interview with Rolling Stone as well as current Google news and other recent articles.

What Mahalo does is take the cream of the crop info on a topic and aggregate it on one page…a search aggregator. To geeks, this is not a revelation. But to ordinary everyday users like my mother and my friends who are not constantly tethered to the Internet, it saves them time and aggravation.

Here’s the other element of Mahalo that is absolutely critical to its success and vital to the people using it. The links are trustworthy. The pages are hand-built and reviewed. I am not saying there won’t be mistakes or bias, but having seen the process through which these pages are built, I believe that there is a high degree of accountability built in, which will build trust — something that is not true of Wikipedia at this time in many circles.

Finally, it looks friendly to someone who is not a geek and is unfamiliar with the Internet. Wikipedia looks…daunting to someone who doesn’t use it every day. Google is utilitarian but not particularly pretty. Okay, it’s pretty ugly but it works for power searchers. The thing is, there are lots of people who are NOT power searchers who just want to find the damn information and find it fast. Mahalo gives them a nicely formatted list of the most relevant information and it’s right at their fingertips, neatly laid out on one page.

For the majority of Internet users who are not geeks twittering, powncing, blogging, and facebooking, Mahalo offers them a clean door to the information they want.

Perhaps they should adopt this motto: Mahalo: It’s not for geeks. Whatever they do, I see it as being an incredibly useful tool for busy people who want easy access to trustworthy information.

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  • Victor

    THANK you. I’ve been trying to explain this to people for weeks now. Problem is, they ARE geeks. My analogy has been DOS. Sure, if you know the commands, life is easy. If you don’t, you have to really work at it. A GUI might not be as powerful (at first, and this is arguable I guess), but you *trust* the designer to expose the commands you are *most likely* going to need. That is precisely what Mahalo brings to the table.

    It’s like going from MS-DOS to MacOS. I’ve been there. It’s a totally different experience and really irks the geeks who are beholden to the more difficult way of doing things.

  • karoli


    Yes, that’s it in a nutshell. And funny you should mention DOS…I had to go hunt for a DOS print command the other day — something that I used to be able to do right off the top of my head.

    The challenge for Mahalo will be keeping the pages fresh — it’s definitely a people-intensive thing, but if they can, they’ve got a terrific product.

  • Jack @ The Tech Teapot

    I agree, I think Mahalo has a chance. Will Mahalo be able to organise the world’s information as google is trying to do. I don’t think that human editing will scale well enough for it to be able to do that. But, having said that, I think there is plenty of room out there for websites that offer different things to different people.

    If Mahalo gets real popular, I mean google popular, then it will effectively feed back into google’s results anyway. A link from a Mahalo page will then be so powerful in google as to effectively make the google results the same as Mahalo. So, in effect, if Mahalo works then google will effectively “copy” it. That’s the way the google algo works!

  • matt coffin

    exactly why i invested in mahalo orignally (besides jason) – my mom can get it and appreciates its simplicity and efficiency.

  • academic visitor

    ok, but what has your daughter learned about *how* to wade through piles of information and verify the credibility and quality of sources? I’d bet her instructor thinks that’s an important part of the research process and thus her assignment.

    Note that I’m not arguing against the usefulness of Mahalo. :-) This particular situation seems to me to be analogous to using a calculator only after you’ve learned how to do it with a pencil.

    Nit-picky? yeah, I admit that…

  • karoli

    academic visitor,

    Welcome. Your point is well taken; however, I don’t see how making searches more efficient is somehow robbing her of the ability to learn to sift through data. Keep in mind that before she used Mahalo, she’d already done the Google search. Some of the unfortunate results of searching a topic as wide as Steve Jobs and Apple via Google are: a) redundant and/or irrelevant results; and b) the possibility of landing on a spam site or worse.

    Mahalo, by the way, does link out to other searches, but they are much more focused.

    I’m not saying that Mahalo is for everyone. However, in situations where you are in a time constraint or where the user isn’t particularly search-savvy (like my mother-in-law, for example) and because they’re not savvy, they’re likely to end up on an unreliable or even malevolent site, I’d steer them toward Mahalo any day.

    In my daughter’s case, she’s definitely wielded the “google pencil”. For her the issue was managing her time efficiently for the purpose of locating primary sources that she’d already identified as necessary to her paper via Google/Wikipedia searches.

    Search on Steve Jobs keynote, for example, and you’ll get a zillion links to the most recent keynote. Narrow it down by year and there’s still a zillion. The point is to focus the search to a pinpoint.

    In the long run, the lesson I’d most like her to learn is how to get her work done efficiently, meet deadlines, and have a high degree of confidence in the product she’s created.

    Mahalo helped with that. It’s not for everyone and probably not even her most of the time, but it served its purpose and illustrated its usefulness to me.

  • social search

    You had a good example on steve jobs,

    but that will only work for really general keywords.

    when your daughter has to find.
    the reason why the interest rates have raised due to blabla … she will still need another SE.

    once you know what you want mahalo for, I guess it’s a good tool

  • karoli

    Jack @ the Tech Teapot,

    First, I apologize for letting your comment slip into the spam filter — I pulled it out just in the nick of time!

    You wrote:

    If Mahalo gets real popular, I mean google popular, then it will effectively feed back into google’s results anyway. A link from a Mahalo page will then be so powerful in google as to effectively make the google results the same as Mahalo. So, in effect, if Mahalo works then google will effectively “copy” it. That’s the way the google algo works!

    Excellent point! The value of that is that Google’s results will then become more valuable. One of my majr complaints with Google is the mish-mash of results one can get on certain search terms because of gaming and black-hat SEO.

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