I'm always interested in seeing how search startups try to position themselves once they enter the market.
Launching is the easy part. You get trendy tech blogs to buy into your approach and product (it helps to know people who will vouch for your work) and write about them, then you open for business and watch the traffic flood in to see how you're different from Google, Yahoo or Bing. The tide of queries generally subsides as the Big Three continue to gobble the lion's share of the multi-billion-query and ad-serving market.
But search has been sucky at Google (the search engine that most people hate to use), according to the trendy blogs who demand content and fact-finding exercises be shrunken and whittled down and delivered hot, fresh and steaming, figuratively (hopefully!) to their iPhones, iPads, Droids and Xooms.
Credit Blekko, then, for capitalizing on this Google-hating trend. Blekko didn't just launch with cool new features to help users refine search the way they want and slowly refine those features the way other search startups have (and subsequently failed to gain traction).
Blekko, which lets users obviate spam by creating slashtags that help them search only the sites users want, is seizing on the spam-fighting zeitgeist.
The startup, which worked with Stack Overflow and banned the top 20 sites most users marked as spam at Blekko, has created a new AdSpam algorithm designed to recognize pages which are spam and eliminate them before they ever appear in search results.
The tool detects multiple display ad positions on a single page and thin to zero content. This tool has banned 1.1 million Web sites from its search engine, spanning millions of Web pages with lousy, spam-filled links.
It's a fantastic idea, which Blekko CEO Rich Skrenta details in The New York Times. Why hasn't Google, whose spamminess has provided a valid platform for Blekko in the minds of tech-savvy users fed up with seeing crap links, done this?
Well, Google did, of course, take action by changing its algorithm to denigrate content farms and other low-quality Websites. Blekko said that's not enough.
Still, for the majority of its 1 billion searchers, Google is good enough... or at least users who don't think so go to Yahoo or Bing.
Most of these users aren't tech, let alone search engine savvy. You say spam to most consumers and they point to Viagra messages in their AOL inboxes. The fact that a lot of people still have AOL for e-mail is alarming enough.
Most Google users are comfortable enough so they don't go to Bing or Yahoo, let alone an unknown quantity like Blekko.
Sure, there are thousands of Blekko slashtags, but how many of them were created by the Robert Scobles Danny Sullivans, and Michael Arringtons of this world?
Blekko is that tree falling in the antispam forest, with too few around to hear it. The AdSpam algorithm may delight Blekko-using geeks, but it won't mean much to average Joe Consumer, no matter how much pounding of the antispam drum Blekko does.
While the slashtag is a great concept, people don't want to do preparatory work before they search. Yes, they can piggyback on the slashtags others build, but that's lazy, which is what most searchers are by definition anyway.
I wish Blekko all the success in the world. Failing that, I hope CEO Rich Skrenta and his antispam algorithm-building team find a home at Google, Yahoo or Bing, where most of the search programmers make a living.