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2/7/2011
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Blekko Battles Spam And Google Recruiters

The upstart search company's growth is bringing attention from users and the competition.

Blekko, a search startup that launched in November, 2010, is gaining traction. The company on Monday reported that received over a million queries per day in January, traffic volume above the surge of interest during the site's launch.

Rich Skrenta, CEO of Blekko, interprets his site's performance as a sign that his company's anti-spam message resonates with searchers. "Our call to rid the Web of spam has been heard loud and clear by many and we encourage our community to continue to slash the spam," he said in a statement.

Blekko's results are particularly impressive given that another promising search engine startup, Duck Duck Go, only boasts about 167,000 queries per day, or 5 million per month, despite a two year head-start. And that's to say nothing of the high profile Google-killers like Cuil have crashed and burned.

Blekko's relative success may be at least in part attributable to general disinterest in Internet privacy services: While many computer users say they value privacy, they seldom make major changes to guard their privacy. Google and Facebook have thrived despite repeated privacy gaffes while businesses pitching privacy have not performed nearly as well.

In contrast to Duck Duck Go, which has differentiated itself from Google by opting not to track personal information associated with users, Blekko has emphasized its social elements -- slashtags -- and its intolerance of Web spam. The company estimates that a million spam pages are created every hour and it has not been shy about removing ostensibly spammy sites like eHow and encyclopedia.com from its index.

In a phone interview, Skrenta attributed Blekko's growth to its willingness to remove spam sites -- the big search engines are more reluctant, he suggested -- and to his company's decision to give users the tools -- a button to flag sites as spam -- to play a role in keeping the Web clean. "The fact that we've taken an editorial stand here is a relief," he said.

The timing of Blekko's stance against Web spam has been fortuitous: Shortly after the search engine opened for business, discontent with spam in Google search results boiled over. In January, Google announced that it had tweaked its relevancy algorithm with stronger penalties for low quality content and that it intends to explore additional measures to help curb Web spam.

Google appears to be aware that Blekko is on to something: It's trying to woo talent away from the startup. As Skrenta noted in a tweet on January 31, "Google is trying to recruit another one of my guys."

Besides Blekko chief architect Keith Peters, Skrenta said at least two other employees had been approached by Google recently. "If Google does feel threatened by us, stealing all my employees might slow us down," he said with a chuckle. "I don't know if that's their motivation or not."

Moments after we spoke on the phone, Skrenta e-mailed to say that a Google recruiter had approached yet another employee -- VP of engineering Tom Annau. Blekko only has 25 employees.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Draining the brains from Blekko may help Google hobble the competition, but that won't win the race against Web spam. As long as Google dominates search the way that Microsoft dominates the desktop, it will face spammers as determined to game its system as the scammers who keep trying to compromise Windows.

Skrenta said he was glad that there are still some companies willing to challenge Google, particularly now that Yahoo and Ask have effectively exited the search business.

"Search is technically really, really hard, but from the beginning we wanted to include features that would keep you coming back even if we didn't win on every search," he said.

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