Blekko Slashes into Search

It takes a real act of bravery to enter the search market these days. In the wake of Ask’s laying off more than 100 engineers and under the shadow of Google’s amazing dominance, however, Blekko just recently entered the field. Bucking for the number three position in search, what does it think it can offer that other search engines can’t?

The first thing you need to know about Blekko is the learning curve. It’s not entirely intuitive; then again, learning how to craft the best Google queries calls for a little practice, too, if you’ve never done it before. Fortunately, Blekko’s home page links to a demo video that is well worth the three-and-a-half minutes you’ll spend watching it.

Blekko seems to be trying to combine features of both social sites and more conventional search engines, with a few twists of its own. Take Blekko’s “slashtag,” for example. In its simplest form, you can use a slashtag, or even multiple slashtags, to modify a search. It works a little differently from using a keyword, however. You separate a slashtag from your search term by a space and the forward slash.

So if I put “tomato gardening /date” (without the quotes) into Blekko, I’d get links to articles on tomato gardening, sorted to show the most recent ones first. The results are roughly the same as if I’d done a news search in Google for tomato gardening; it saves me a click but makes me do a little more typing.

On the other hand, I can do a lot more with slashtags. For example, I can chain slashtags together. So if I’m interested in the most recent information on growing my own tomatoes, I can put “tomato gardening /diy /date” into Blekko. My top result, dated November 9, carries the title “Tools for Successful Gardening – 5 Vegetable Garden Tips for an Abundant Harvest.” To me, this is pretty darn cool.

You may be wondering where I got the idea to use the /diy tag. That happens to be one of Blekko’s built-in tags. They have literally hundreds; you can check out their list.

When you check the list, you’ll notice that they’re sorted under three different tabs: topics, built-ins, and users. The topics slashtags are pretty much what you’d expect: general topics that someone might want more information about. The /diy tag falls under this heading, clearly standing for “do it yourself.” Other topic tags include /actors, /green (presumably ecology-related, not simply the color), /freebsd, and so forth.

The list of built-in slashtags is much shorter, and includes explanations for each tag. The /people slashtag, for example, states that it limits search results to pages associated with a person. The /date slashtag, which I used in the previous section, lists search results by most recent date. Blekko lists a number of useful-looking built-in slashtags, including /calendar to find out the dates of key annual events, and /flickr, to search for images on that website. 

You can create some very precise searches by combining these two kinds of tags, as you saw when I did my tomato gardening search. Looking for a list of fashion photographers? Try putting photography /fashion /people into Blekko. Admittedly, there’s a certain amount of figuring out how Blekko “thinks,” but you can always do a search without the slashtags and then revise.

It’s with the list of user slashtags, though, that the social element of Blekko comes into play. You can log in and create a free account; once you have, you can start building your own slashtags, and follow others who are doing the same. Blekko’s naming hierarchy is set up such that multiple users can create slashtags with the same apparent names, without conflicting, because the slashtag’s full name includes the name of the person who created it.

Let’s take a look at one of Blekko’s users. With the screen name of dominikras, he’s created four slashtags for himself: /msdn, /tips-and-tricks, /seo-news, and /seo-podcasts. Blekko lists when he created them, the description he provided for them, the number of websites he’s included under each slashtag, and how many followers each one has, among other information. Clicking on the number of sites listed for a particular slashtag gives you the full list of sites, with links to each site.

Basically, when dominikras uses one of his special slashtags, his search looks at only those sites he’s listed in the slashtag. You can freely add and remove sites from a custom slashtag, as well as edit the description. And you can follow other people’s slashtags.

Following other people’s slashtags is where things get REALLY social. You can’t edit someone else’s slashtag, but if you follow their slashtag, you can use it in your own searches. This allows you, potentially, to search through a carefully-curated collection of websites assembled by an expert in a particular field.

Believe it or not, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what you can do with Blekko. Be sure to check back tomorrow, when I reveal some of this search engine’s other features – including one that’s guaranteed to endear it to SEOs everywhere. See you then!

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