Search the Web - the Blekko Way

Would you trust the man who created the first documented computer virus that spread in the wild? At least, this is a sure indication that he’s got brains. Here’s another one: blekko.

Blekko (co-founded by Rich Skrenta) is a search engine for the Web. Nothing special so far, one might think. We have seen plenty of that. The reason why blekko is recently gaining both attention and momentum is clearly attributed to the innovative user interaction1.

Why does this matter? There has been a debate in the blogoshpere lately about whether or not the useful search results delivered by Google are literally drowned in tons of, let’s face it, spam.

The term content farm has been coined to describe sites that scrape the internet for content and then heavily apply search engine optimization (SEO) in order to achieve a higher page rank than the original content.

Since most search engine providers arguably are (in terms of how they make money) advertisement companies rather than technology providers it is hard to imagine that hey have a serious motivation to overcome this situation.

This may be the big opportunity for blekko, a search engine that actively supports the user in filtering search results with respect to spam sites. This can be done in different ways:

  1. Search queries can be instrumented by so-called slash-tags that are supposed to narrow the search on websites associates with the slash-tags that have previously been identified as useful in the scope of the meaning of the slash-tag.

    Search results that pass the slash-tag filter are presented on top of the list but results that fail the filter are just as well available. Of course, this is necessary to fine-tune the slash-tags by adding results from the “failed” list that are considered helpful nonetheless.

  2. Search results can be filtered individually such that the site is not only excluded for the current result list, it will never appear again2 in a later search result presented to the specific user who filtered the site.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the quality of results provided by both slash-tags and spam classifications heavily depends on whether or not the user is willing to let blekko know his identity. Technically speaking, this boils down to signing up with blekko for a user account that allows for creating and storing custom slash-tags and spam lists.

Speaking of quality of search results, there is still room for improvement in this regard. I ran some searches and compared the results delivered by both google and blekko. Turns out that google is way more able to deliver the one precise result but it will also come back with tons of irrelevant information. That’s exactly the point where slash-tag filtering may save the day and if blekko can improve in terms of preciseness it may actually become a viable option.

By the way, the structure of queries to blekko is fairly simple. It is almost a no-brainer to come with a custom search query that works in Alfred:

At the moment, blekko is still in beta. It will be interesting to see what happens if it eventually manages to gather a critical mass in terms of user community. In other words, how in the world is blekko planning to make money?

I tend to doubt they have ads in mind. Or if they have it would be genuinly evil to first support the elimination of spam from search results and then placing ads at the very result page. Maybe (and I’m not saying that this would be a bad solution) the idea is to convince the community that the service is worth a few bucks each month and therefore go for a subscription model3.

Whatever solution they will finally manage to come up with4 I think the general idea behind blekko is absolutely worth becoming successful. Let’s wait and see, maybe the solution for the business model will be an example in lateral thinking just as the technological approach behind blekko itself.

  1. The details are explained in the about page

  2. Unless the classification is actively changed by the user.

  3. Perhaps similar to e.g. Remember the Milk, but it would probably not be far-fetched to think about different rates for private and business customers.

  4. And I shall stay tuned for it.