Review: Blekko Search Engine

Google is more than a brand, it’s a by-word. Like Hoover, Google has become verb and a generic term for web search. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that other search engines are available, that even Microsoft’s Bing faces an uphill struggle.

With an 80-90% share of searching the web’s trillion-plus pages, with Bing engineering to ape Google’s results, is Google search all there is or does anyone else have a better method? So how does new entrant Blekko fare?
Blekko, with strategic partner, Russian Internet company Yandex professes 1% of searches will turn it into a billion-dollar business.

Blekko promotes itself as search with a difference. Using “slashtags”, you can qualify your search with a section of the web you want it to mine results, for example, suffixing your search “/fashion”, “/movies” and so on. Moreover Blekko claims to filter out content farms, spam and malware.

Blekko uses search algorithms modified by human volunteers, to identify the sites they know, trust and visit most often to put those at the top of the search results. It is a model employed by Wikipedia and Huffington Post applied to search.

Various search experiments have been conducted by reviewers, subjective searches, objective searches, slash-tagged and not. Blekko ties with Google for relevance in a number of these. Not surprisingly, Google returns a higher proportion of commercial results in others. There is considerable overlap in these tests and some situations where Blekko shows markedly different results, particularly if you get into the slash-tagging habit. Lazy and non-search savvy users may not get the benefit. It is reportedly more effective in English language searches.

Vanity Search
So what happens if I enter a vanity search on “allan j. smithie opinion”? This was on October 9th.

Bing Search resultsDisappointingly, I got ‘no results.’ Then bizarrely, Blekko then lists “1 to 10 /bing results”. This is some kind of fall-back position, presumably second-handing the search through Bing.

Results 1 and 2 are mine from the personal blog, 4 and 5 are syndicated from Everything Express. Number three is unconnected, a different Alan Smithie, apparently big in Pole Dancing! After that, I’m out of Blekko’s seemingly random results.

Let’s look at Bing then, using the same search. Bing’s 34,700 results are on the money beginning with my blog, bang up to date with that day’s posts, the author profile page and the same material on Everything Express. Try that on Yahoo and you get the same list on page one, unsurprisingly since Bing provides Yahoo with search.

Google Search resultsThe acid test is, of course, Google. The same search a couple of days later gets 9,620 results and hits the blog home page and then a slightly random selection of posts not in date order. Clearly Google and Bing run each other neck and neck depending on your definition of relevance.

It doesn’t look good for Blekko on that basis. Although I’ve yet to try this on more generic subjects, I’m tempted to say the more generic your search, the less it should matter which engine you use. Blekko has a way to go and despite the well documented funding ($54m and counting) looks more like a me-too Timmp than a Google giant-killer. AJS

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