Blekko and Dexterous Search

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This past November, search newcomer Blekko opened its figurative doors to the public, and the appearance of a search engine that aims to intuitively boost user dexterity in refining results has been much welcomed. Blekko lets users narrow or reorganize search results by adding slashtags to the query. For example, a search for "net neutrality /liberal" returns only results on net neutrality taken from top liberal blogs and political sites. A search for "black swan /date" returns a chronological list of results for black swan, including the most recent reviews. Users can create new slashtags, by compiling a list of trusted sites over which they want to search using said tags, and can subsequently make their slashtags public so friends and other users can use the benefit of their peers’ experience is certain domains.

The major complaints heard from Blekko’s detractors aren’t particularly surprising: Google does search too well for anyone to possibly get a foothold and creating and using slashtags is too complicated for the average user. In an interview with TechCrunch shortly after their launch, Blekko Founder and CEO, Rich Skrenta, briefly addressed these issues. As he more or less put it, with regards to the first complaint, Google doesn’t handle every search perfectly, and therefore there’s room for an additional player to pick up the ball wherever Google drops it. Blekko doesn’t need to be a "Google-Killer," it just needs to find a niche or collection of niches in the widely varied ecosystem of web search. And with regards to the second complaint above, concerning the complexity of use, Skrenta notes that they’ve deliberately gone after the "power users" to start with, and are using these advanced users’ efforts to improve the search experience for their less involved visitors. Sites listed as trusted under a particular slashtag can be used to filter and improve results for searches related to the tag, even if those searches are made without the benefit of slashtags. Good answers.

Blekko Screen Shot

We think Blekko might just have staying power, and possibly enough of a draw to nip at Ask’s heels one day in the hopefully not too distant future. But regardless of how Blekko itself fairs, this development in the progression of ambitious search startups is an exciting one. The folks at Blekko have masterfully put into action a couple of the general guiding principles that have been part of our core philosophy at Helioid since day one. Namely, that at least some searches can be greatly improved with added user dexterity in manipulating search results and that search in general can be improved with new, innovative ways of incorporating user feedback. It’s quite gratifying to see a startup exploring these ideas so effectively, and hopefully if Blekko does establish a loyal user base it will evaporate the myth that no search startup short of a genuine Google-Killer has a place in the field.