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How Mahalo Works

Building Mahalo Search Results
This SeRP for the search term "Hawaii" illustrates a guide's selection of the best links possible.
This SeRP for the search term "Hawaii" illustrates a guide's selection of the best links possible.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks

Mahalo depends on contributions from two different sources: the in-house FTGs and the remote contributions from PTGs. The FTGs primarily edit the SeRPs that PTGs build. Building a SeRP requires several steps to ensure that only the best links are displayed on Mahalo. 

The PTG begins building a SeRP by searching Mahalo's Most Wanted page to find a topic. Some of the topics on the Most Wanted page come from user requests or threads on Mahalo's message board. Others are gaps in Mahalo's coverage or breaking news stories. Mahalo divides the Most Wanted page into verticals, or broad topics. Verticals are very general categories, like food, business or travel. Verticals are then broken down into subcategories. For example, the food vertical has the subcategory beverages. Each subcategory has a specific template guides must use when creating a SeRP. Most Wanted topics are color coded -- red items are unclaimed search topics, while green items are already claimed by another contributor.

A guide should choose a vertical and topic that he or she is familiar with but that isn't a conflict of interest. Once a guide finds a good topic, he or she claims it by clicking on the topic's link. Guides have seven days to complete a SeRP. If they don't work on it for two days in a row, Mahalo automatically sends them a reminder e-mail about the SeRP's completion due date.

The next step is in the SeRP creation process is building the SeRP template. Mahalo assigns a shortcut code to each template, which the guide copies and pastes into the editor window. The template makes creating SeRPs easier, and it also ensures that guides follow Mahalo's style and formatting standards. The guide builds the SeRP from the generic template, replacing the pre-existing template terms, such as "beverage," with the Most Wanted search term, like "Coca-Cola."

Once the guide has a SeRP template ready to go, he or she can start searching for great links. Mahalo guides search for links the same way most Internet users do -- they start with big search engines like Yahoo! and Google. They may also use other search methods, referring to sites like and Digg. When a guide finds a really good link that meets Mahalo's standards, he or she activates the Greenhouse tool.

The Greenhouse tool generates a toolbox with the appropriate SeRP name. A dropdown menu including the titles of all the subsections of the SeRP allows a guide to designate where the link belongs. Guides must fill out these other fields as well:

  • A pre-text field, usually the name of the linked Web page.
  • A title field, text that will become the link's hypertext.
  • A description field, including information that will appear after the hypertext, such as the year of publication for an article or the length of a linked video.

Once the guide follows these steps, he or she can click on Add URL in the Greenhouse toolbox. The tool automatically adds the link into the corresponding SeRP. After the guide has added all the links that he or she feels are necessary for the SeRP, the newly built page is ready for an editorial review.

In the next section, we'll look at the steps a guide takes to ensure that Mahalo's editors accept his or her SeRP.