Human-built search engine Mahalo appears to be shooting past the traffic numbers it got when it launched, according to Heather Hopkins at traffic analyst firm Hitwise.

Mahalo pages are collections of the most useful links regarding a wide variety of timely topics in popular niches. I find the idea of curating a collection of content over time fascinating. On each page at Mahalo you can suggest links, grab the OPML file for all the feeds on a page and even get a Firefox plug-in to take Mahalo everywhere you go. I know it's not hip to like Mahalo in tech circles, but I do.

Despite the love-hate relationship many in the tech industry have with the company's founder, Jason Calacanis, the site is proving just-plain-useful. It's not the hit-or-miss Mahalo Daily Show that keeps me coming back - though days 3 and 4 of CES coverage were quite good, as was The Room episode and the one about cookies was ok. (Aak!) It's the way that Mahalo acts as a reference site, just like Wikipedia is a reference, that I visit and recommend checking out the site for.

Critics say that Mahalo will never scale like an automated index can, to which the company argues that it's only serving the bulk of popular search queries, not the long tail of search. Link selection is also very arbitrary - but I find Mahalo a good place to start learning about many topics. Other things I look up in Wikipedia first, it just depends on the topic.

Hopkins reports that US traffic to Mahalo is up 53% over the last three months. While still tiny, it's the 69th most visited search engine on the web Hitwise says, the continued growth is noteworthy for sure.

The graph above shows the percentage of US internet traffic Hitwise saw going through Mahalo. It's graphed against stillborn competitor Cha Cha. Likewise, Mahalo could go the way of Squidoo, another human curated reference site that seems to have devolved into spam and irrelevance.

The page about the DataPortability Workgroup, for example, is on the Mahalo front page under Technology right now. Aren't you curious what the most pertinent links about that much-discussed group might be? I looked it up out of interest more than to learn about the group, but I've used the site to learn the basics about many non-tech topics in the news. I didn't know there was a conflict between Iranian and US Navy ships this week, but I found all kinds of articles and videos about the topic on the Mahalo page.

While tech and news are my topics of choice, Hitwise reports that most outbound traffic from Mahalo is destined for Entertainment (37%) and News and Media (19%) sites. I wouldn't be surprised if Mahalo's success continues.