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TechCrunch Review: The Blekko Search Engine Prepares To Launch

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It takes a crazier than average entrepreneur to go after the search market. There’s an entrenched player, Google, with 65% market share. Google is so powerful the second player, Yahoo, just bailed out of the market. And third place Microsoft is throwing billions of dollars around just to get in the game.

We’ve seen Wikia, Cuil and other well backed startups try and fail at search. Now Blekko is preparing to launch. Will they find success where everyone else has failed?

They’ve been working on Blekko for 2.5 years now – we first covered them in January 2008. Cofounder and CEO Rich Skrenta had just left his previous company, Topix. Blekko has raised three rounds of financing since then, totaling $20 million, from some of the most respected angel and venture investors in Silicon Valley.

Blekko remain in private alpha, although I’ve had the chance to test the engine over the last few days. They will shortly begin letting a few beta testers onto the site, and a full launch will happen later this summer.

What Makes Blekko Different?

Blekko is a full web search engine, with regular crawls of billions of web pages. But they know that they can’t beat Google at size of index, relevancy and speed right out of the gate. So they’re differentiating themselves in another way – by giving users tools to do new types of searches that they can’t do elsewhere. And by providing an unprecedented level of access to the algorithms and data that Blekko uses to determine relevancy.

That doesn’t mean Blekko’s relevancy isn’t great. The company says they’re on par with Google and Bing for most queries. But the differentiating feature are the query refinement tools they call Slashtags. These tools, like /news or /date or /amazon or /blogs, or any combination, make it very simple to quickly filter results to what you are looking for.

Users can create their own slashtags based on a group of URLs. I’ve created one that lists all TechCrunch sites to do easy site search. Others have created slashtags for conservative or liberal blogs, top tech sites, etc. If they make those slashtags public, others can use them, too.

The company also lets users search via a variety of APIs. Add /amazon to search on Amazon. Or /twitter to search via the Twitter API. Or just type /whatever.com to search just that domain.

Blekko Is Instantly Likeable

Anyone who’s used to advanced search tools on Google will instantly like Blekko. It’s much quicker than using things like “site:” modifiers on Google, and some of the searches you can do on Blekko you just can’t do on Google at all.

Will less advanced users like Blekko, too? The founders think they will. And since Blekko works just like the search engines they’re used to as well, they think people will quickly get comfortable creating and using slashtags.

Transparency

Blekko is also showing just about all the behind the scenes data that they have to determine rank and relevancy. You can see inbound links, duplicated content and associated metadata for any domain in their index.

Interview with the founders and a screencast of more features coming up in our next post.

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