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Blekko Aims to Slash Away Shady Search Results

Blekko Aims to Slash Away Shady Search Results

Blekko, a new search engine that launched in beta Monday, uses a wiki-like model to deliver results. Volunteers work to categorize the Web by creating slashtags for topics and weeding out malware and spam sites. For searches that don't fall within a slashtag category, Blekko uses its proprietary ranking algorithms to deliver relevant results from its Web crawl, which covers 3 billion pages.

By Richard Adhikari
11/01/10 11:37 AM PT

Blekko, a new search engine in the works since 2007, launched as a public beta Monday.

Like Wikipedia, the site leverages the work of volunteers; in Blekko's case, they categorize the Web in an effort to weed out malware-ridden and spam sites.

Curators do this by creating slashtags for topics they like, such as "U2/music," for example. They can collaborate as they create slashtags and can slash through heavily spammed categories so users will know to avoid them.

"We're trying to use the Wikipedia approach to categorize the Web, bringing large-scale human curation to search not on a search-by-search basis but a category-by-category basis," Mike Markson, Blekko's vice president of marketing and one of the company's cofounders, told TechNewsWorld.

The team behind Blekko previously founded the Open Directory Project and Topix.net.

The Slashtagger Cometh

The idea behind slashtagging is to set up a curated set of websites organized around a particular topic. Users append slashtags to their search queries, which limits search results to only the curated set of websites.

Slashtags are best used to group their creators' favorite sites; launching searches where keywords don't work well, such as "congress/humor;" slashing through heavily spammed categories; providing access to recent material and Web data; and providing direct access to third-party application programming interfaces (APIs), Blekko contends.

The company currently offers seven initial search categories: health, colleges, autos, personal finance, lyrics, recipes and hotels. The idea is to provide results only from the leading quality sites in a category search, which will theoretically eliminate spam sites and infected websites.

"For specific types of searches, such as medical information, for example, this model may well block a ton of spam and yield more meaningful results," Randy Abrams, director of technical education for ESET, told TechNewsWorld. [*Correction - Nov. 3, 2010] "But, just as anti-spam for email has both false positives and false negatives, this approach will offer false positives that mean the searcher may not get some potentially meaningful results."

Initially, Blekko plans to identify the 50 best sites on the Web for the top 100,000 search categories. The company will expand the number of categories in the future.

For searches that don't fall within a slashtag category, Blekko uses its proprietary ranking algorithms to deliver relevant results from its Web crawl, which covers 3 billion pages.

The public beta includes a community platform that lets users work together as they create slashtags. This enables group editing of slashtags.

"We're really using the Wikipedia model," Blekko's Markson said. "You bring people in and log everything so people can watch what other people are doing and can flag suspicious entries someone makes."

Will Blekko be able to cope with increased demands for servers and bandwidth if its concept takes off? The company has 800 servers in a collocated site in Santa Clara, Calif., and has "plenty of bandwidth," Markson said. "We'll probably have to scale up more as we grow, but for now we're handling that traffic and the site is zipping along."

Just Like Dmoz

If the idea of Blekko sparks feelings of deja vu among those familiar with the Open Directory Project, that's because the same group behind Blekko was the one that launched that project, as well as news aggregator site Topix.

Perhaps investors see that as a blessing -- Blekko claims to have raised US$24 million since it was founded in 2007. Its backers include U.S. Venture Partners and CMEA Capital, and Markson said the company's angel investors are Ron Conway, Mike Maples, Jeff Clavier and Marc Andreessen.

However, perhaps the ties to the Open Directory Project and Topix may be more of a curse than a blessing.

"Those projects played well to small audiences but generally failed to break out of their niches," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "They had more the feel of university projects than general market offerings, and I fear Blekko may well be more of the same."

Other Considerations

Another possible strike against Blekko is that it may not be as potent a protector against spammed sites or malware-laden sites as expected.

"Those who use the search engine will probably be less likely to hit rogue antivirus pages, for example, but it offers no protection against legitimate sites that have been compromised," ESET's Abrams pointed out. "Since more users will probably continue to use Google search, Blekko's impact on Web security may be negligible."

Still, Blekko may have a shot at succeeding, if it can create its own niche instead of competing with Google on the search giant's terms.

"The hard part of competing with Google is that it doesn't just have one technology in search; it uses a lot of different techniques," Carl Howe, director of anywhere consumer research at the Yankee Group, told TechNewsWorld.

"The key for Blekko is to find a niche where users get much better results than they would with a Google search," Howe added.


*ECT News Network editor's note - Nov. 3, 2010: In our original publication of this article, Randy Abrams is incorrectly identified as Randy Abramson.


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