The Next Google Search Challenger: Blekko

Rich Skrenta, who created the first computer virus (Elk Cloner), co-founded the Open Directory Project, and co-founded online news site Topix, may have bitten off the biggest challenge of his career – taking on Google. In search.

Skrenta left Topix last June. He started his new company, Blekko, almost immediately, along with five others from the Topix core team. They raised $2 million in seed funding in September from Baseline Ventures, two early Googlers (David DesJardins and Jeremy Wenokur), and the founding team.

The company is still deep in stealth and, apparently, working out of a garage in true startup style (see image below). The Blekko website, which today has nothing on it except a picture of a puppet created by Skrenta’s daughter, isn’t even close to having a landing page up, let alone the final product. But eventually Skrenta says they’ll launch a full scale search engine to compete with the big guys.

Skrenta, who’s very media savvy, won’t say much about how he’s going to tackle search (he’s not a fan of PageRank though:“PageRank wrecked the web. Google is the cause of all of this. and Google is going down with it.”). He says they are looking at improvements on the back end (indexing and query serving) as well as the user search experience itself. Beyond that, he says we have to wait. And it might be a long wait at that. The company, Skrenta says, may not have a public prototype available until 2009.

Normally an entrepreneur announcing they’re taking on Google with a six person team and just $2 million in funding would either be laughed at or ignored. In Skrenta’s case, he has proven himself more than once as capable of taking on big challenges and winning. This will be a company to watch, and speculate on, in 2008.

There are other promising search startups out there. Powerset, Cuill (we’ll be hearing more about them soon) and the upcoming Wikia Search Engine are all yet to launch. Mahalo is growing fast (but still tiny). Can anyone unseat Google? Perhaps not any time soon. But you don’t have to get much market share to be a huge winner in this space – every 1%, they say, is worth a cool billion dollars.