Ever since its launch in November 2010, Blekko has been on a mission to eliminate spam and content farms from search results. The human-curated search engine, which is also known both for using actual mammals to edit search results and for its employ of slashtags for easy categorization, announced in March that it had banned over 1 million spammy domain names from its site. Using a new algorithm it calls “AdSpam”, Blekko investigates the quality of a doman’s content, as well as the type of ads it includes, to identify those of the lowest quality. Those that don’t pass muster get the boot — which should be music to any searcher’s ears.
Now, whether or not Blekko can compete with the Googles of the world in the long-term remains to be seen, but I hope so. You might say that Google has rested on its laurels for a bit too long, and, in the meantime, Blekko seems to have been taking the necessary steps to make search a more pleasurable and less spam-loaded experience. Search is desperately in need of a fresh and holistic approach. And, today, Blekko is further rounding-out its competitive engine by going social, announcing that it will be integrating Facebook comments into its results pages.
Considering that the Facebook News Feed has become an extremely popular source for link-sharing, updates, and social commentary — and Facebook Connect now practically blankets the Web — the social network is a logical partner for Blekko. And it gives it that much-envied social flair it had been lacking.
But, how does it work? Using Blekko’s Facebook integration is easy: You simply connect with your Facebook account on the Blekko homepage, and go about your normal searching. The major difference, though, is that when you type “TechCrunch” into the search bar, you’ll still the same search results you would otherwise; yet, now, all mentions of TechCrunch in your Facebook news feed (and thereby mentioned in your friends’ feeds) populate the right column. Look out!
You can also use a hashtag in the Blekko search bar (“/facebook”), and the engine will serve you with results from your Facebook comments and those of your friends. There’s also a box above your Facebook comment results in the right sidebar that allows you to post directly to your wall.
Blekko search was already pretty fantastic, if just for low spam counts, so why the integration? “The Web is increasingly a social experience and search has got to get more social too”, said Blekko Mastermind and CEO Rich Skrenta. “This brings the social graph and social commentary right to the results page. Because what your friend says about information is as important as any expert’s advice could ever be.”
I haven’t yet been totally convinced by the social recommendation evangelists that I’m better off hearing suggestions from my friends than a group of experts, but the social wave has crested, and it’s impossible to avoid. Get on the bandwagon, or get out of the way.
After all, my friends do know what kind of pizza I like, so if I happen to be searching for pizza places on Blekko, this will likely enhance Blekko’s search results. And, on the flip side, though my gut reaction would be to think that search results for something more obscure like, say, “translational research in neuroscience” might not exactly be augmented by the Facebook peanut gallery. But maybe one of my friends happens to be studying that very thing in med school.
Regardless, this is a smart (and logical) move for Blekko, especially considering that it began leveraging Facebook Likes in its search parameters earlier this year. Users who login to Blekko with Facebook can see whether or not their Facebook friends “like” particular search results. Users can also refine their results by opting to search only those sites that have been “liked” by their friends. At first glance, this idea seems fantastic, but it’s really only useful if your friends (in the former example) are actually using Blekko and (in the latter) if they are frequent users of the like button.
The search engine currently indexes approximately 3.5 billion URLs, which pales in comparison to Bing and Google, which are both over 15 billion. Obviously, this is a bit of a problem, because, on top of this, Blekko is such a thorough spam blocker, it can also leave out sites that just seem spammy but aren’t.
On the bright side, Skrenta says that Blekko has been growing traffic every month since launch in November. The site saw roughly 575K unique IPs last month. And that is all organic usage adoption, he says, Blekko does not entertain paid traffic, SEO, facebook viral loops, and so on.
In the end, I applaud Blekko’s efforts to become more social, and look forward to (what I hope) is its inevitable integration with Twitter. Right now you can use the Twitter slashtag to search the site using Twitter’s API, but they haven’t made any Twitter social search integrations, though Skrenta tells me he’s considering it.
Combining actual human editors with intelligent anti-spamming algorithms is a dynamic combo for search. So, here’s to hoping that Blekko gets the kind of user adoption it needs to reach the tipping point and give Google (and Bing) a run for their respective monies.