Community-driven search engine Blekko has been in the news a lot since its launch, and today it announced a way for users to do their holiday shopping without having to worry about shopping on an untrustworthy site.
"This new search vertical includes only human selected, reputable shopping sites and is designed to fight off spammers and malware distributors for online shoppers this holiday season," a representative for Blekko tells WebProNews. While it's a bit late in the day, it is Cyber Monday, so it's a pretty good day for such a feature.
First of all, it helps to be familiar with how Blekko works, so if you're not, watch our recent interview with co-founder and CEO Rich Skrenta who explains it:
"Any user can go to Blekko today and just add /safeshop to their search, ensuring they get results only from the most trusted online stores," the rep says. "Blekko is also inviting web users to help edit the /safeshop slashtag and to add additional trusted outlets to the search vertical."
Does the crowd equal trust though?
"All of the sites selected for this tag [are] selected by humans," Blekko cofounder and VP, Marketing Mike Markson tells WebProNews. "As we add in more editors, we will log all of their activity - the sites they add, the ones they delete, etc. - that way they are subject to the review of the community in general, and the editors of the slashtag in particular. It's very similar to the Wikipedia model - if you log every change, the community can police and keep it accurate. It's the direct human involvement, not just counting links, that keeps this tag trustworthy."
"It seems more important than ever that we work together to create a really great holiday shopping search experience that weeds out the online Grinches who want to steal, rather than give during the holidays," said Skrenta. "Algorithmic search is sinking. Web users collectively will be able to build a holiday shopping search experience that protects consumers."
We have seen a couple instances today that would suggest a bit of a human touch in search could be just what the doctor ordered. You may have read about Google giving high rankings to a business getting tons of negative reviews or how Bing's new Artist Pages for musicians leave a bit to be desired in the content department. Either of these problems could be solved by some good old fashioned human editing (which Google apparently did, as the business in question stopped ranking so well after the exposure it got from a New York Times article).
Whether it's avoiding going to a business that doesn't treat its customers well, avoiding misinformation or just plain irrelevant information or avoiding malware, it's becoming more and more clear that people can't trust algorithms alone. Sometimes people need people, and this seems to be the whole reason for Blekko's existence, and why Skrenta sees it as the "third search engine" (with Google and Bing being the other two).
In fact, Blekko even alludes to the Google incident in its announcement, saying, "Other search engines that rely solely on algorithmic ranking have recently been called out for promoting sites that offer consumers a poor experience. Perversely, these sites have found that negative attention can help them gain additional promotion in algorithmic search results. Blekko's /safeshop slashtag fixes this by limiting results to only trusted online sellers."
Blekko claims to have thousands of slashtags in the bank already, created by thousands of human editors. The company also launched "auto-fired slashtag searches" in seven categories that are most often targeted by spammers. For these, Blekko says it returns results only from the most trusted information sources from sites that have been inspected for quality by volunteer editors.
The biggest issue for Blekko moving forward, will likely be managing the public's trust in its editors (well, that and penetrating the market dominated by Google and to a lesser extent Bing). Skrenta was also the co-founder of what became DMOZ, and that has been largely criticized over the years for its editorial process. The search engine is bound to attract criticism from webmasters of sites who don't make the cut for certain slashtags, who feel they should. That's just part of the game though. It will be very interesting to watch Blekko's progression.