Mahalo Ombudsman?

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{cc by RonRag }

One issue that keeps coming up over and over again with regard to our results is people’s fear of bias. Of course, I’ve addressed this over and over again in my career from Silicon Alley Reporter to Weblogs, Inc. and on to Netscape (the social news version). Bias exists in humans, sure, but there are very clear ways to deal with it that have been established for a long time. Things like transparency, ethics codes, hiring people well, firing bad people quickly, early warning systems, and the like.

I mean, machines have as much bias as human’s… it’s only a different kind of bias. But that’s a whole other discuss.. 🙂

We debate bias at Mahalo on a regular basis, but frankly it doesn’t come up as much as you might think. Sure we deal with search results like abortion, 9/11, and George Bush, but keep the results fair and balanced with a NPOV (neutral point of view) is fairly easy. As a search service/engine we don’t have to make a decision who’s right and wrong, but rather point people to the breadth of information out there. Also, we are not the only service on the Internet for finding information. We don’t expect folks to use Mahalo as their ONLY resource for finding information.

That being said, I’m considering what I think would be a first for a startup company, and certainly for a search engine: a corporate ombudsman.

An ombudsman, for those who are new to the term, is defined as follows in the news business:

  • “A news ombudsman receives and investigates complaints from newspaper readers or listeners or viewers of radio and television stations about accuracy, fairness, balance and good taste in news coverage. He or she recommends appropriate remedies or responses to correct or clarify news reports.”

A corporate ombudsman for a search engine would have the follow definition:

  • Mahalo’s corporate ombudsman is an independent contractor who monitors our corporate policy, product, and search results to make sure they are fair, accurate, and balanced. Our ombudsman also discuss the products produced by the company with our users, giving them an independent, impartial source to discuss their positions on subjects related to the services Mahalo provides.

In my mind I’m imagining a Jeff Jarvis, Robert Scoble, Dave Weinberger, or Doc Searls level person. Someone who has a built in audience of technology and media thinkers who can respond to their reports. I’m thinking of this as a part-time contract gig. Perhaps for three or six months as a trial. The person would blog about 2-3 issues a week related to the service and what people are saying about it. We could read what they say and perhaps respond, but in general we would listen and take it all in.

I’m thinking this might be a model for many content-driven sites. I’m sure some of the conversations brought up would be painful and even annoying to deal with, but I think sunlight on cures the worst wounds. So, short term pain for long-term gain.

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