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