It's a big deal, it's awkward, it's frightening, it's brave, it's already both loved and hated - but it's not a wiki. As Ward Cunningham, the man who invented wikis, told us in our initial coverage of SearchWiki, "Collectively editing thoughts is what leads to the unique wiki behavior..." Days into the experiment it's clear that this feature is more like a forum, and it's not a particularly well architected one at that.
We wonder why Google would choose to call this feature a wiki when it's pretty evident that's not what it is. You can't edit anyone's text in SearchWiki. You can't collaborate intentionally - perhaps in effect users are collaborating by voting search results up and down, but that's hardly the kind of collaborative behavior that every other wiki in the world makes possible.
There's no way to reach consensus, or stasis, in SearchWiki. You can't see the past history of anyone who contributes. Documents don't change, they just get bigger. There's no discussion of the "wiki" document, just the document itself.
The Two Biggest Problems With SearchWiki
There are two major problems with SearchWiki, beyond the fact that it's not a wiki. First, the usability is awful. It's really bad. Users have the visual UI of Google, famous for being clean and clear of disruptions, but if they want to view the markup from other users they have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the search results page. Then, in many cases, clicking that button just tells you there are no wiki results. It's a terrible user experience.
Second, there's no changing, challenging or hiding anything that's been posted. Try a search for McDonald's, for example. There are two notes - one from some random web designer that's spamming the "wiki" with a link to his page, the other from some joker testing the obscenity filter. Neither can be removed, edited, nothing. We presume that the McDonald's PR department has seen this - but is there anything that even they can do about it? Apparently not. Wait until it's you that has things you don't like appended to the page just one click away from page 1 Google for your name - what are you going to do about it?
This Could Be Big
Wikipedia has a big, engaged community that's worked out some practices and tools to make it all work as well as it does. Google, on the other hand, threw hundreds of millions of people into a forum, called it a wiki and left everyone to their own devices.
Wikis are something very special. They are one of the first types of social software that many business users are introduced to at work. Wikis are used for every kind of collaborative effort you can imagine, from tracking the history of politicians, to sharing best practices for librarians to categorizing every living species on earth. Wikis are not forums for dropping comments, spam and thumbing up your favorite web pages.
There's a whole lot of potential here - but as it is Google SearchWiki is an absolute train wreck. Maybe when larger and larger numbers of people wash over it things will get better. We're not so sure, though.