Blekko Censors Search

// // February 03rd 2011 // Rant + SEO

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

Blekko Doesn't Grok Spock

Blekko Spam

Just prior to Farsight 2011, Blekko removed twenty sites from its search results.

"These sites are the worst spam publishers on the Web according to our users," said Rich Skrenta, CEO of Blekko. "They are literally responsible for millions of pages on the Web that our users say are just not helpful and they'd prefer they were banned permanently. So we're going to do that for them."

Blekko has some interesting functionality around spam so I can see why they'd want to highlight it based on the recent spam/content farm meme surrounding search. That's understandable. But censorship is not the answer.

Blekko Users

There is precious little data as part of this announcement. How big is Blekko? Quantcast and Compete show that the monthly unique visitor count is anywhere between 16,000 and 143,000. However, to mark anything as spam you have to be a Blekko user.

The November 2010 public launch of Blekko provided some insight into numbers and usage.

Blekko has been testing its solution to search with roughly 8,000 beta testers who have created more than 3,000 different slashtags. Blekko tells us that 11% of its existing user base come back to the site on a weekly basis.

I was a beta tester. So were a number of my colleagues - innovators, technologists and SEOs. As a search marketer we were eager to try out a competing search engine. I'm not a Google apologist.

Without hard data the math gets fuzzy, but the total number of registered users seems relatively small and is likely still composed of innovators. Do these people represent everyone?

Blekko Searches

The other missing piece of data is the searches related to these spam complaints. We don't know the types of searches that were performed, nor the result set that was presented to users. Are the spam complaints a measure of the sites or a measure of the quality of results returned by Blekko?

Are spam complaints produced on general search queries or long tail queries? Is the incidence of spam complaints for specific sites different based on query type? (Information vs Transaction vs Navigation.)

The spam interface also leads to another question. How many of the spam complaints were made without visiting the site in question?

Blekko Censorship

Aaron Bradley took the words out of my mouth in his Blekko, Can I Please Have My Spam Back? post.

At the end of the day, I have no respect for a search engine that censors my results based on notions of quality, rather than relevancy.  It ceases to be comprehensive, it smacks of elitist righteousness and – most of all – decisions about the validity of content are being made on my behalf by people I don’t know.

Quality and taste are subjective. The fact that Blekko has chosen to use the feedback from a biased minority to censor results for the majority is unfortunate. Is the message that mainstream users don't know enough to make their own decisions, the right decisions? If I search for 'food', should unhealthy foods be removed from search results?

In all seriousness, would Blekko remove specific books that users had marked as spam? According to the American Library Association, this would mean Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Color Purple would vanish from the landscape.

Use spam feedback to reorder results, but let me make up my own mind. I don't need a nanny search engine.

Disclosure: While I consult for Buzzillions, this post is my personal opinion and does not reflect those of Buzzillions.

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Comments About Blekko Censors Search

// 9 comments so far.

  1. Rob Diana // February 03rd 2011

    Let me play devil’s advocate here. First, if technologists and SEOs were in the beta group, then this is not the “early adopter” problem, these people are essentially experts in search engines. So, the beta could be seen as a group that could give them the best quality. Also, “decisions about the validity of content are being made on my behalf by people I don’t know” is rampant on the internet and should not be an argument. Google does this all of the time with changes to its algorithm. When they change, a small group of people decide what is best for all Google users. They could be taking some user input or user behavior as well to influence the decision, but that does not really make it any different than Blekko. With regards to “If I search for ‘food’, should unhealthy foods be removed from search results?” it would depend on the type of search engine. If you were searching on an “organic/healthy food” search engine, removing junk food from the results makes complete sense. Just because Google is very open in its results does not mean that every search engine needs to behave using the same rules.

    Do I agree with what Blekko did? No, but it is their product to change as they see fit. Is reordering any different than banning the content? Banning is essentially putting those results at the very end of the list where no typical user goes. So, did they really do anything different than you asked them to?

  2. Aaron Bradley // February 03rd 2011

    Thanks for this thoughtful post. Your American Library Association is a great example, and I think provides an helpful analogy. These books were not challenged because they failed to measure up to a standard of artistic merit, but because they in some way offended the sensibilities of the reader. Similarly, a user clicking on the “spam” button may not be marking a page because it offers copied, invalid or misleading information (the range of what might be considered “spam”), but as a result of much more subjective assessment unrelated to any reasonable definition of “spam” (the writing was of poor quality, I didn’t like the picture, I know the author to be a jerk, etc.).

  3. aj // February 03rd 2011

    Rob,

    Thanks for the thoughtful counterpoint. I agree that Blekko can do whatever they wish. It is their platform and their product. The lack of data troubles me. Frankly, the sites with the most spam complaints are often the most popular. It would be much more interesting to know the spam/click ratio or spam/impression ratio. Using the ‘most complaints’ logic we’d never have to listen to Justin Beiber again.

    However, I don’t think innovators are experts in determining quality across a large breadth of search terms. To be clear, I loathe Squidoo, but the fact that I do shouldn’t prevent others from making their own decision on the site. It’s very popular.

    The mental model for the Innovator is vastly different from that of the Early Majority. Robert Scoble is going to have a very different opinion of quality than my mom. And while I like Robert, I don’t think he has any idea what my mom thinks is good or bad. Flat out, it’s subjective.

    I don’t think Google is perfect (far from it), but they do try to be objective, or at least balance the various competing subjective views.

  4. aj // February 03rd 2011

    Thank you for yours Aaron!

    I worked in the book vertical for many years so I’m very familiar with the idea of a vocal minority trying to censor the majority. But you’re right to poke at the definition of ‘spam’ in this context. The reason and motivation for marking that site or URL spam is unclear. A group of concerned parents could mark a company as spam because of the products it sells or where it advertises. Does that have any relation to the relevancy of that company to specific queries? No.

    I actually like the idea that you can filter and shape your own search results. That’s a nice feature. I just think Blekko reached too far in an effort to appeal to the current search engine drama.

  5. SEO Freak Show // February 04th 2011

    “Nanny Search Engine”..hahahaha..love it

  6. Marcelo // March 01st 2011

    I don’t understand all the hype surrounding Blekko. I tried to search there a couple of times and the results presented to me were almost hilarious in matter of relevance. Any meaningful results are presented down the page, “additional web results”, provided by Bing(!). So, as I don’t like Bing and I don’t need a third search engine to show me Bing results in the inferior part of a page, what do I get? No, thanks.

  7. jack // November 28th 2011

    Ban Bing on your computer , it’s a lousy search engine.

  8. Net user // February 06th 2012

    Blekko is using highjack technics, installed without my concern and impossible to uninstall. I dont want it, never install it and will remove this crap as soon as possible.

  9. Fred // May 12th 2012

    Blekko is using highjack technics, installed without my concern and impossible to uninstall. I dont want it, never install it and will remove this crap as soon as possible.

    this is my answer also. So please remove this from my computer

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