Encouraging a user community to help with the task has potential, he adds. “There’s one precedent, which is SearchWikia,” says Weinberg, referring to a failed search engine launched by Wikipedia creator Jimmy Wales. “They actually did get a community of tens of thousands that contributed millions of edits, so I do think it’s possible.”
Convincing large numbers of people to switch search engines will be difficult, he adds, because force of habit is so strong. But the payoff for gaining even a small fraction of the search market would be large. “It’s the biggest business on the Internet,” says Weinberg. The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates that in the first half of 2010 some $5.7 billion was spent on advertisements that appear alongside search results alone.
Google has twice experimented with having users fine-tune its search results, but discontinued both ventures. Co-op, launched in 2006, let users add subject tags to pages to help Google search rank more accurately, and SearchWiki, launched in 2008, let users move results for a search up and down the results list to affect the outcome of future searches.
“There was acclaim for these ideas, but only from the tech community,” says Amit Kumar, founder of startup Vurve. Kumar was formerly director of product for Yahoo Search, where he decided not to carry out similar experiments because he thought few users would take part. “It seems Blekko is taking some of those ideas and perhaps making them a little more usable.” Working together on broad subject categories is more attractive than giving feedback for individual search queries or results, says Skrenta.
But Don Turnbull, a search technology consultant and previously director of Outride, a search technology firm bought by Google in 2001, says that although Blekko’s results are competitive with Google’s, it will likely appeal most to early adopters. “People that aren’t search geeks may struggle, although applying slashtags automatically will help with that,” he says. “I know the team is proud of being almost all engineers, but they need to avoid building an interface like a 747 cockpit.”