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“The Web has turned into a swamp,” said Blekko cofounder Rich Skrenta at the event, “because search engines gave URLs economic value.” Methods of ranking search results that rely mainly on which sites have the most links or keywords are no longer robust enough, he said. Instead, a more human touch is required.

Harry Shum, who leads development on Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, also appeared at the event and agreed that search companies need new approaches. “I think this is a big problem,” he said. “Google is overemphasizing the automatic approach. Maybe we need to take into account the authority of the authors of pages or other social information.” Bing has experimented with a feature that draws on information from a person’s Facebook friends to rank results.

Cutts claimed that it’s not Google’s style to make “editorial decisions” to block certain sites—the company would prefer to find purely automatic ways to filter out sites that don’t help users. “Using algorithms can work in German and Japanese as well as it does in English,” he pointed out. However, he also revealed that Google is experimenting, internally for now, with a Blekko-like strategy where users can wrest some control of their search results.

“I have a Chrome bar installed on my laptop that will let you block certain sites from results,” said Cutts. “If people want to send us direct feedback, that’s great.” However, he gave no indication of when the feature might be launched publicly.

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