Blekko CEO Rich Skrenta Discusses Search Quality, Filtering, Zorro Update

Chris CrumSearchNews

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Blekko, the alternative search engine that aims to challenge Google and Bing by reducing spam and low quality content in search results via human curation, has refreshed its index and results pages in an update it refers to as "Zorro". We picked CEO Rich Skrenta's brain about the update, search quality, and blekko's goals in general.

"Zorro is a major upgrade in our relevance," Skrenta tells WebProNews. "blekko users have spent the past six months curating the web on category by category basis, telling us the best sites for broad categories like health and personal finance as well as narrower categories like gluten free."

"Zorro incorporates those human-curation efforts into our result set for non-slashtag queries by boosting pages from the curated sites - even for non-slashtag queries," he adds. "With Zorro, we can boost results from multiple slashtags to make results better. ex.:"

"The net result is further reduction of spam," he says.

On how the Zorro update improves the search experience compared to competitors, Skrenta tells us, "Other search sites rely wholly on algorithmic intelligence for results. We are incorporating human-curation efforts directly into our results. Given the amount of SEO gaming being done, we believe that only humans can accurately differentiate a clever spam site from a quality site."

"We initially integrated slashtags for 10 sites into our standard results," he says. "Now we are incorporating hundreds.  Our users have created over 100k slashtags since we launched.  That data wasn't available on day 1."

Blekko's mission is to provide search results without spam. That takes a lot of filtering. There is a discussion going on around the web right now about how what we see on the web is becoming more and more filtered. Eli Pariser calls it the "Filter Bubble," and DuckDuckGo, another alternative search engine and peer of blekko's launched a site discussing this very topic. This is more about search engines and other sites (including social networks like Facebook) filtering what we see by tailoring content delivered to us on a personalized level. A lot of people don't like the idea of having this content filtered. With blekko doing its own kind of filtering, we wondered what Skrenta might have to say about this.

"We've reached a tipping point on the web where it is easier to white list the set of good sites than black-list the set of bad sites," he tells us.  "ex. the top 100 health sites will answer all your health questions.  You don't want to search outside that set of sites.  Our efforts with Zorro combine the best of curation and algorithmic intelligence to deliver spam free results."

Blekko somewhat famously (at least within the search industry) blocked a number of sites deemed "content farms" from its results. Even today, blekko's home page carries the message: "Slashing out…spam…content farms…malware." Among the sites blocked were a few from Demand Media, including eHow, which has consistently carried the "content farm" label, despite the company's best efforts to position it in a different light.

Demand Media has made it a point to clean up eHow's quality (more on this initiative here), so we wondered if blekko's banning of eHow, or any site, can be reversed. "We constantly review sites for quality and our users continually identify quality sites for us," Skrenta says.

Along with the Zorro update, blekko launched a little game called "3 Engine Monte". It's available via a link on blekko's home page, and invites users to enter a query and then choose from a set of three results sets, which one they like the best. One is from Google, one is from Bing, and the other is of course from blekko.

We asked if the majority are picking blekko most often. "We are currently collecting data and will have results soon," Skrenta tells us.

When asked about long-term goals for blekko, Skrenta simply says, "Clean up the web from spam, category by category."

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.