Introducing Blekko: The 'Wikipedia of Search Engines'

The new site aims to improve upon Google's "spammed out" search results

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The founders of the newly-released search site have a problem with the way most search engines work. "When you look at the results in Google and Bing, the results are slipping. They are manipulated. Many of the categories are totally spammed out," Blekko CEO Rich Skrenta said. By "spammed out," he means that articles from low-quality content farms like Demand Media often appear in Google's search results. Blekko is designed to change that, providing results from high quality sources. The site uses "slashtags," which filter the results of a search, and ideally give the user only quality results. Users can also search by bias (for example, the slashtag "/liberal" provides articles from only left-wing sites).

Of course, the search engine market is a competitive space and many others have tried and failed. Can Blekko succeed? Here's what tech bloggers are saying about the site:

  • Here's How the Site Works, demonstrates Michael Arrington at TechCrunch:

  • Blekko's Main Feature Is the 'Slashtag,' explains Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land:

Blekko’s “slashtags” are a unique feature that may draw you in on occasions when you want to see how search results look when they’re skewed to a particular viewpoint... Want your search results with a liberal slant? You can do that at Blekko, or slash your results the opposite way for a conservative view... 

This is all done using slashtags, special keywords that you place after what your searching for, in order to indicate the viewpoint you want used to spin your results. Blekko maintains over 250 slashtags (the full list, for those in the beta, is here), including viewpoints such as:

  • /beer

  • /christianity

  • /green

  • /startrek

Blekko’s slashtag formula works because of passionate users who take the time to add and edit URLs for category slashtags. As such, the company has released new features to enable users to apply to be editors for slashtags as well as share their comments and feedback on individual slashtags. Think of this as the Wikipedia  formula but applied to search, so a small percentage of users will work together to build out slashtags for the majority of Blekko searchers.

Beyond slashtag searches, Blekko can have relevancy issues with its “regular” results. For example, a search for california without any slashtags applied is dominated by links to various California-based universities. In contrast, the same search at Google is much more balanced in terms of listing sites that cover California as a whole.

  • Blekko Creates a Highly Specialized Search, writes Laura Khalil at Yahoo News:

Blekko is... automatically applying slashtags to improve results in seven initial search categories: health, colleges, autos, personal finance, lyrics, recipes and hotels. For example, searching “cure for headaches” on Blekko will provide results only from the top quality sites in the health category.

For searches that don’t fall within one of Blekko’s pre-defined categories, Blekko uses its proprietary ranking algorithms to deliver relevant results from its 3 billion page web crawl. As users create and refine more slashtags, Blekko plans to expand “auto-slashing” to improve results in more categories.

  • Here's How Blekko Can Succeed, writes Ryan Singel at Wired:

The key for Blekko is likely to be two-fold: one, create enough dedicated users to curate categories and reduce infighting to keep them involved and two, make slashtags largely invisible and automatic for the large majority of searchers, who just want to find information without having to navigate a fight between the moderators of the /techblogs and /techbloggers slash tags in order to find reviews of the newest tablet computer.

  • Blekko Will Definitely Fail, writes Henry Blodget at Business Insider:

Normal people haven't the faintest idea what "slashtags" are or why they would ever want to use them.  A Blekko proponent in our office says that people don't have to know what slashtags are to use Blekko, but the fact that the company's slogan is "slash the web" is a bad sign. It would be like Google talking about Boolean logic.  "Slashtags" may have some meaning and create excitement in a tiny corner of the world, but if Blekko has any broader ambitions, it should stop talking about them immediately.

Except for slashtags, Blekko is a decidedly old-fashioned search engine. Unlike Google, it doesn’t try to weave together images, videos, real-time results, factoids, and other pieces of information into one list of results. Nor does it use your location or other cues. It just wants to give you a simple list of relevant results.

Blekko may in fact win enough repeat users to make it a going business, but it won't have a real, Web-wide impact unless its concept--that bias is good and more aggressive search filtering is needed --gets some traction. There's nothing to stop Google from becoming more Blekko-like and starting to return results even more user-specific and location-specific than they already are. Until then, though, Blekko is a solid alternative to Google and Bing for anyone, and more importantly it's got great potential for researchers, librarians, journalists, or anyone who's willing to put some work into how their search engine functions in order to get better results.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.