Search Engines Get More Human with Blekko

Well, aside from the curious name (it sounds like what my son says when he eats something he really doesn’t like) it looks like Blekko has people talking. And talking to the tune of $24 million in funding.

What on earth is Blekko? According to TechRadar, Blekko is a search engine with a radically new approach. Instead of relying on keywords, algorithms, and SEO, Blekko relies on human input instead and thereby trying to combat the market-saturated web, where every search result seems either sponsored or placed because of SEO finagling. (I should know, I’ve spent a good amount of my life as a freelancer writing SEO-specific web copy).

The brains behind Blekko claim that their approach of “narrowing down your search to groups of websites pre-approved by other users as being the best source of information (instead of the most popular)” vastly reduces spam and marketing placement in searches. Intead of having algorithms making decisions, humans are.

In a way, it’s like superimposing Facebook over a search structure, from the sound of it. And I think the model has promise, especially on a smaller scale. I’ve found that looking for specific, somewhat obscure information is getting harder and harder on the web these days, especially when it’s location-based (between sponsored ads and the map overlays and whatnot). Blekko, as the article points out, will unlikely be the face to challenge Google. However, its ambitions–to put the internet into the hands of users rather than machines–are noble and, I think, promising.

But not everyone agrees. CNET calls Blekko a “biased search”. (Rafe Needleman of CNET shed some light regarding the name of the company, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, “[Blekko] whose name means, according to CEO Rick Skrenta, Our naming firm sucked, so we went with this instead.”)¬†Which, I suppose, in some ways, is. But at the same time, it’s also making use of one of the best features of social networking: crowdsourcing. If, instead of getting information that’s simply keyworded or sponsored, we get information that experts in their field have approved, it can only help people in the long run. So maybe it’s not Facebook so much as it’s Wikipedia, albeit with approved and not created content.

Back to Blekko, though. Currently Blekko is in beta, and there’s a good amount of information to be gleaned from their site. First, there is their bill of rights:

  1. Search shall be open
  2. Search results shall involve people
  3. Ranking data shall not be kept secret
  4. Web data shall be readily available
  5. There is no one-size-fits-all for search
  6. Advanced search shall be accessible
  7. Search engine tools shall be open to all
  8. Search & community go hand-in-hand
  9. Spam does not belong in search results
  10. Privacy of searchers shall not be violated

All very heartening to hear. While Google is good at volume, its strength is no longer in pinpointing exactly what you want.

In regard to the way that Blekko works, the “human touch” part comes from the use of slashtags. Yes, slashy slashy, as they say. You make and then include slashes (like /beer or /geek) with your searches, thereby categorizing various pages automatically. You can then use your own categories, or branch out to your friends categories or those in the larger social network. Got a friend who knows a great deal about Star Wars figures? You might want to check out his “starwars /toys” search.

It may be that Blekko finds support among geeks most of all. After all, we revel in categorization. I know I’d love to have a far more specific search, filtered by experts in the network, rather than having to wade through what happens to be popular. And I trust my geeks more than just about anyone else.

What do you think about Blekko? Are you categorizing in beta? Share your expertise.

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