By Katie Fisher
Try Googling “kitty cat.” You might get more than you asked for–literally–especially if you were looking for adorable pictures of fuzzy kittens. To solve this problem of unrelated, and sometimes inappropriate, results that appear in Google searches comes the new search engine Blekko. Released last month, Blekko that allows users to specify exactly what they are looking for, or not looking for, through the use of “slashtags,” or keywords preceded by a forward slash.
Blekko’s appeal comes from the fact that users can perform more precise searches without using excess keywords. For example, typing “Windows” into Google would yield results relating to both the transparent glass pane and the well-known computer software. Using Blekko, adding the slashtag “/tech” to a search will cause the engine to yield results related only to the computer software.
In addition to attempting to create a search engine which yields only relevant results, Blekko hopes to make searching more informative, allowing users to browse throughv, legitimate websites when they are looking for factual information. The search “prevent swine flu /health” yields results from the Center for Disease Control, Flu.gov, and the FDA on the first page, while Google provides top results from howstuffworks.com and ehow.com showing the CDC only at the bottom of the first page.
Websites such as ehow.com are known in the world of the Internet as “content farms,” or webistes that write articles on popular Internet searches in order to drive web traffic to their site. Articles written for these websites, however, are usually brief and not written by experts. In contrast, the CDC is a government organization whose articles are compiled solely by professionals.
In spite of its innovative idea, Blekko suffers from limited searching capabilities. It does not span the length and breadth of the Internet, as Google does, nor does it provide all the services Google can, such as maps, shopping and email. Even still, Blekko seeks to challenge the great search engine giant for its place in the Internet kingdom.
Blekko is not the first search engine to attempt to unseat Google from its throne. Wolfram Alpha, a search engine known mostly to struggling mathematics students, also developed around a novel idea about searching the web. Instead of providing users with links to information, the information itself is compiled for them. Alpha works mainly with equations or questions relating to numbers, however, so its value is limited for the average student. But when used correctly, it can provide a vast wealth of information: graphing equations, simplifying them, providing alternate forms, and taking derivatives all in one fell swoop.
Both Wolfram Alpha and Blekko provide specialized services to users looking for more than just a general search, Google might not provide much direct help with math homework, but Wolfram Alpha can give you the answer and show you how to get there. And if you’re looking for news with a particular slant, using “/liberal” or “/conservative” as slashtags on Blekko can provide blogs with exactly the perspective you’re looking for.
Wolfram Alpha failed to become the next Google, and despite its hopeful ambitions, Blekko may suffer the same fate. Similarly to Alpha, however, Blekko has specific uses that can be put to good use by knowledgeable Internet searchers. Although it may not go on to create a Google-esque empire, Blekko clearly has a nice and may develop an even greater following as time goes on. For students, these search engines can become tools, providing specialized, relevant information when a Google search just doesn’t cut it.