Posted November 1, 2010 10:19 am by with 16 comments

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There’s a new search engine kid on the block: blekko

blekko is different because it uses what it calls “slashtags” to help the searcher refine their search results.

There are two major problems that will prevent blekko from reaching mainstream success. I’ll reveal both, after this video intro to blekko:

OK, so the two big problems? You just watched one of them. Any search engine that requires a video tutorial is not destined for mainstream success. When was the last time you had to explain how to conduct a search on Google? If I had to explain slashtags to my mom, sister, or just about anyone, I’d likely get a ton of questions and they’d ultimately end up going back to Google. Google became popular because it was easy to use and did all the heavy lifting for you.

The second big problem? The very thing that sets blekko apart from other search engines: slashtags. First, the concept of using commands to refine your search results is not new. Second, while slashtags may help filter out spam and other unwanted results now, wait til the masses–including black-hat SEOs–get their grubby mits on them. Searchers don’t want to use these slashtags, they just want to enter their search query and go.

I’m not saying blekko is doomed to be another Wolfram-Alpha or Cuil–there are already some cool uses for blekko–but I just don’t see this search engine going mainstream. Then again, maybe blekko doesn’t see that either.

Have you tried blekko? What are your thoughts?

  • dean

    I just searched for /meh and got the blekko site

  • In some ways I think blekko should be looked at more like Twitter than Google. In the sense that when Twitter launched very few people understood its true value. It wasn’t until its super users started talking about it more that it really caught on.

    I don’t think blekko is designed for mainstream users. And I think that’s really smart. Think about it this way, why waste millions of VC funding trying to compete with Google only to be squashed in the process. That’s what happened with Cuil and Wolfram Alpha. Instead I think they are trying to capitalize on the growing dis-concern among search enthusiast with Google’s loss of transparency/trust.

    Then maybe after they have won the backing of us geeks they can forge ahead with the mainstream public. Because despite the fact that the slash tags are kinda confusing, the engine still works really well with out them!

    But, then again you already know I am bias! RrRWAaRr!

  • Andy – right on. The beta users loved slashtags but they’re an advanced set of users.

    That’s why for the public launch today we added auto-slashing for a number of categories.
    blekko can tell if your query will be improved by a slashtag and will auto-fire to improve the results.

    Try these queries A/B on blekko vs. google:

    pregancy tips
    cure for headaches
    big island resorts
    pan fried noodles
    industrial design colleges
    cash back credit card

    The auto-slashing puts you into a curated set of top sites, leaving out all the crap & spam you see in the google results.

    We’re doing this for health, lyrics, autos, hotels, recipes, personal finance and colleges initially.
    We’ll expand it over time as the wikipedia-model around our slashtags kicks in.

    • Thanks for the insights Rich.

      How large do you think you can scale the topic curation? Not just the number of topics but also the addition and removal of sites within a topic/

      The Wikipedia model works because of the thousands of external volunteer editors. Yahoo editors cost the company millions of dollars to keep employed. What’s your approach?


      • Remember my team did this before at dmoz. That was a web 1.0 site obviously but we signed up 80,000 folks to type urls into a hierarchical web directory. If instead we could curate thousands of vertical search engines, and automatically apply them to *regular* queries – well that would be really cool.

        Most people don’t edit wikipedia. blekko has a fantastic college search engine /colleges because one of our beta users made it. But now everyone else can benefit from it. college search is stuffed with leadgen sites in google, when /colleges autofires on blekko you get 100% actual schools and zero spam.

        • So you are hoping power users will create the slashtags for you?

          Obviously we saw the slow demise of dmoz as editors lost interest or were accused of ulterior motives for adding sites to a category. How do you plan to avoid this with blekko?

          What’s to stop an SEO from curating a slashtag and then covertly slipping in his client’s web sites?

          Thanks for the dialog!

    • dean

      Wow! I was just searching for ‘pan-fried noodles’ this morning. 😛

      Seriously though – its way too easy to cherry-pick handful of search queries and compare them favorably against Google. Point is 99.999% don’t have the time nor inclination to “learn” a new search engine when the current options work just fine. But you are welcome to the .001% that like to run against the crowd and torture themselves.

      The search engine war was won the day Google became a verb. Lets stop kidding ourselves here.

  • They just lost me…. Tried to login with via Facebook Connect, no success. Buh-bye Blekko, was nice meeting you. 🙂

  • re andy – yes we want power users to edit slashtags. They’re already doing it. In our beta period we had over 3,000 slashtags created. You don’t need a high fraction of people who like to curate stuff to sign up to get broad coverage.

    We learned a lot from dmoz and topix about running big social systems and the various mistakes you can make. We have central editorial here with a team plus a more twitter-like model where users can make their own tags, and you won’t follow spammy tags.

    Turns out /health /lyrics /hotels /recipes etc. are actually all top 10 search categories and have a lot of junk in them on the web. But top-100 lists in those categories can answer nearly every query. The model works – our plan is to expand the categories post-launch to thousands.

  • I’m afraid we should all be advocating for Blekko and if we don’t then Blekko will not succeed.


    Why? Because they are much more open than any other search engine. The SEO statistics and link data offered by a search engine could give the SEO industry exactly what it needs as Yahoo Site Explorer becomes less reliable.

    When you step back and look at the big picture, at everthing Blekko does, slash tags are a drop in the bucket.

    We know what blekko uses to crawl (ScoutJet), the values they give sites, and links pointing to them, plus, we can do side by side comparisons. This data IS decent especially for beta. It reminds me of a $90/mo SEOmoz pro account.

    Not only that, the main thing that matters is accuracy and speed of search results. The search results look extremely accurate and less spammy than Google’s.

  • Skye

    Doesn’t google have this? You just go into advanced and limit it to “Only with these results” or whatever it says.
    Also, I think you can just do “+(whatever you want it to include)” to do this…

  • It seems that if your just wandering around looking for sites to help you kill time then yes its actually a good engine…

    I prefer stumble and Digg for that sort of stuff… I want to find sites that I don’t know about rather than sites that I am aware of.

    That said however, Its power seems to be in the relevance of interest.

    So if you want to find out more about fashion designers you can, about English fashion designers even better… It has its advantages, however It wont be killing any other engines in the near future.

  • Bonnie Parrish-Kell

    I just tried a quickie search “military/rank.” Instead of giving me results about the ranks within the military, Blekko gives lists of websites with DAT info. When I got more specific “us army/rank” then I got the usual type of results page.

    At first glance, Blekko is more for the SEO and marketing folks as it may provide some competitive intelligence. Will have to play with it more AND read the feedback on it before I can really determine its usefulness.

    Hope to see you at Pubcon next week 🙂

  • Beyond the slashtags, the name Blekko just isn’t good for business.

  • “wait til the masses–including black-hat SEOs–get their grubby mits on them”
    that is the real problem in mu opinion. The robots want to beat the folks that do it for real.