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Blekko tilts at the Google windmill

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I found out about the new and unfortunately-named search engine Blekko (blekko.com) from the San Francisco Chronicle web site. The web site has dueling blog entries: Nick Saint admits that starting a new search engine is a ridiculous uphill proposition given the prominence of Google (and, to a lesser extent, Bing). Still, he titles his post "One Reason To Take New Search Engine Blekko Seriously."

Henry Blodget, however, titled his post "Sorry, Blekko is Doomed."

Saint says Blekko is actually a good idea for a search engine, and has some user-curated features that Google can't duplicate. I agree; Blekko may not become your primary search engine, but it's worth bookmarking.

The gimmick behind Blekko is what are called "slashtags." A slashtag is a way of limiting your search results in hopes of making them more useful. For example. a search for "pain in the neck" followed by the slashtag /health would return only results from what have been identified by Blekko or its users as legitimate sites for health information. You won't get results from, say, a blogger calling his co-worker a pain in the neck, you won't get results from prescription drug spammers, and so on. Similarly, you can look for /humor or /noporn or /gossip or many, many others.

Of course, you can do some of this same type of thing by knowing how to use Google with search operators, quote marks, and what have you. But the slashtags are an elegant solution.

There are also slashtags with specific purposes. You can do a quick Amazon.com search by using the slashtag /amazon, or a quick Flickr search by using the slashtag /flickr.

You can use the slashtag /date after any search to sort your results by date.

You can combine slashtags in a single query.

You can create your own slashtags, and keep them for your private use or share them with others. You can give other people the permission to add sites to your slashtag or keep yourself as the sole editor.

Assuming that you're logged in to the site, you can also identify any particular search result as spam, and prevent that site from ever turning up in your future searches.

Saint says that Blekko's filtering features aren't likely to be copied by Google any time soon. As the overwhelmingly-dominant industry leader, he writes, Google has to be sensitive to any charge that it's censoring search results for self-serving reasons. I'm not sure I buy that, especially since many of Blekko's filters are user-created and all of them are optional for users.

Blodget may be right; Blekko may be "doomed." But I think it's an interesting approach to search, and one that's worthy of a second look.

The name is horrible; the CEO took it from the address of a server he operated in college. It makes me think of Mad magazine and the word "blecch," used in many of its parody titles and what have you. But you have to grant that it's memorable.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.

John I. Carney
Loose Talk / Charge Complete
John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.