Blekko Social Search Challenges Google - InformationWeek

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11/1/2010
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Blekko Social Search Challenges Google

The search startup believes those using search engines should define what's relevant and share their insights to help everyone else.

Blekko is the latest search startup to challenge Google. Founded by Rich Skrenta, co-founder and former CEO of community site Topix, Blekko aims to improve search results by leveraging the supposed wisdom of the crowd.

In a blog post, Skrenta explains that allowing users to participate in the search process can improve the experience.

"We realized we could make Web tools that let users sign up and help make the search engine better," he wrote. "If we opened up the process, we could not only get orders of magnitude more people involved than we could ever hope to employ, we could also create an open, accountable process around the search engine relevance data."

Blekko works by allowing users to define their own vertical search indexes, limited categories of search results defined by so-called "slashtags." The concept is similar to the hashtags used to categorize Twitter tweets. The advantage to this approach is that searching under a specific slashtag or category avoids irrelevant search results associated with different meanings of the search terms.

An example of this is the Google search "dominoes," which includes a pizza chain as the first search result and a Wikipedia entry about the game dominoes as the second search result. By selecting a slashtag associated with games, a Blekko user presumably would see more relevant results.

Skrenta claims that Blekko's approach leads to better results in categories that are heavily spammed or polluted with material posted by content farms, which produce low-quality content in volume to game Google's search algorithm. As an example, he cites the Blekko query [cash back credit card /money], which doesn't return particularly useful results when entered in Google.

However, it remains to be seen how resistant Blekko will be to abuse. Spammers, scammers, and other manipulators of search engines haven't yet invested in gaming Blekko's system. But if Blekko becomes popular, they're sure to try.

Google has survived such challenges before. Jellyfish.com tried to innovate using the cost-per-action model for search advertising. But it ended up being swallowed by Microsoft. Fast and Blinkx have given it a shot. There was Cha Cha and Powerset. The much ballyhooed Cuil search engine crashed and burned, and Wolfram Alpha, while a useful tool, isn't really in the same category as Google.

But there's something to be said for trying, regardless.

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