But, outside of Microsoft's Bing, very few new search sites have been designed to compete directly with Google. Most aim at a specific niche of users who are looking for different types of capabilities (though most also probably secretly dream of getting acquired by Google).
This is definitely the case with Blekko, a search service that went into beta this week. The twist that Blekko has is that it makes it possible to easily limit your searches to just an approved set of websites, thus preventing the user from ever seeing unwanted sites, or sites used for spam, phishing and malware infections.
I like the idea of this type of search, though it isn't exactly new. Google makes it possible to limit a search to one site (for example, using site:informationweek.com would limit searches to the InformationWeek site), and desktop power search tools have also long had the ability to limit results to a list of sites.
However, in practice, the current beta of Blekko comes up short in more than a few areas. At least in my tests over the last few days, it appears to need more work before it is ready for regular use. So how does Blekko work? In the simplest form, you need to only do a search followed by a slashtag. For example, you could search on Palin/politics. The slashtag is basically just a list of sites that will be searched for that term. The first problem is that when using Blekko, you need to know if a slashtag already exists for the type of search you want to do. If you just go to the site and search on Passion pit/bostonbands, it will most likely fail.
Blekko has pre-created a list of slashtags but it is hardly comprehensive. And even if there is a slashtag that seems to fit your needs, there’s no guarantee that the sites that the slashtag will search are the ones you would want it to search. To really get the most out of Blekko, you need to create an account and build your own slashtags. This is a fairly simple task of naming the slashtag and adding URLs. It was also possible to import a text file of site URLs.
Once I had created a slashtag, I could choose to keep it private or share it (so that other Blekko users could also use it for searching). So far, so good. But after this, I started to run into the beta issues of Blekko.
First, if I had defined a slashtag as public, I couldn't go back and make it private later. I had to delete the slashtag and re-create it as private. But the biggest problem was the searches themselves. Using some of the slashtags I created, the results often didn’t make sense to me. The web sites (that were in the slashtag) that should have come up at top were often nowhere to be seen. Also, in some cases, sites from the slashtag that I knew had good content related to the search failed to appear at all in the results.
Of course, this is a new search engine, still in beta, and these types of glitches are to be expected. And there are some very nice features in Blekko for easily sorting searches by date, for getting SEO data on sites and for integrating with website APIs (for example, it has some nice features for searching Amazon).
But this beta still has a lot of problems (and I'm not even talking about how the product name resembles the noise kids make when eating broccoli), and it will definitely need time before it is a viable search option.