Blekko is a new search engine currently in private beta, and I have been playing with it for the past few days. Co-founder Rich Skrenta says upfront that Blekko is not a Google-killer, and I agree. However, for a few search enthusiasts to begin with, it is a very interesting Google alternative to come up in many years.
A SlashTag For Techmeme Leaderboard
I wanted to have a handy way to search all the websites that make up the Techmeme Leaderboard. It turned out to be simpler than I thought. A straight import of the OPML file helped create my “/TMTop” slashtag that I could use to get quality search results for anything related to technology.
For generic search terms like “credit card”, the difference between search results from Google and Blekko is obvious:
Higher Relevance With Curated Search
When comparing approaches to filtering for relevance, I noted how Google search is built almost entirely on algorithms, with minimal human intervention directly on search results. Being a monopoly in the search business, Google has gone to great lengths to ensure that its search algorithm is fair and impartial with no human bias.
Blekko turns this principle upside-down, by giving end users the ability to curate their search. This mix of human + algorithmic filtering leads to potentially very high relevance of search results. Why potentially?
Keyword vs. Slashtag
Consider an example. Let’s say I’m searching to troubleshoot problems with iTunes on a Windows PC. The key question is: can Blekko’s “iTunes problems /windows” perform better than Google’s “iTunes problems windows”? The answer, at present, is no. Google’s first result is Apple’s official support site for iTunes on Windows, while Blekko doesn’t include www.apple.com as part of its “/windows” slashtag.
In fact, at present, even a plain search for “iTunes problems windows” without any slashtag on Blekko doesn’t return the Apple support site in the first few results.
These are difficult challenges for Blekko. Slashtags may not be as effective as you might think. This is because curation is an either-or affair – there is no ‘maybe’ as there can be deep inside an algorithm.
Combining Social Features with Search
Blekko has added social features by enabling you to “follow” other users’ slashtags. This means those who can aggregate a carefully curated set of websites within a slashtag stand a chance of being followed by several other users. This sounds appealing as anything social does these days.
But a reality check: who makes “following” popular on the web? Celebrities and Websites/Blogs whose primary objective is driving traffic to their own content. A slashtag may be a curator’s achievement, but it drives traffic to various sites by definition. Thus, I don’t see any popular brands, celebrities, or content creators to drive the social features of Blekko, hence I suspect it will remain restricted to the minority of search enthusiasts.
Impact on SEO: Slashtag Optimization (STO)?
Will Blekko’s human curation mean that algorithm-focused SEO will suffer? That largely depends on market share of Blekko’s adoption. Greg Sterling has a nice post discussing this issue.
Imagine being able to set default slashtags in your search preferences that filter content farms, adult websites, etc. Search will get a boost in effectiveness of several orders of magnitude. This, coupled with the transparency Blekko brings to the table about its internal SEO metrics, is one of the best things to happen in search, in my opinion.
Even if a minority of search enthusiasts adopt Blekko, I see two possibilities:
- Google may tweak its algorithm to penalize content farms, as is being suspected
- Google may offer tools to filter the web in its own searches
In my opinion, if either of these happen, Blekko has proved to be disruptive.