This semester, my students at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley researched the VC system from the perspective of company founders. We prepared a detailed survey; randomly selected 500 companies from a venture database; and set out to contact the founders. Thanks to Reid Hoffman, we were able to get premium access to LinkedIn—which was very helpful and provided a wealth of information. But some of the founders didn’t have LinkedIn accounts, and others didn’t respond to our LinkedIn “inmails”. So I instructed my students to use Google searches to research each founder’s work history, by year, and to track him or her down in that way.
But it turns out that you can’t easily do such searches in Google any more. Google has become a jungle: a tropical paradise for spammers and marketers. Almost every search takes you to websites that want you to click on links that make them money, or to sponsored sites that make Google money. There’s no way to do a meaningful chronological search.
We ended up using instead a web-search tool called Blekko. It’s a new technology and is far from perfect; but it is innovative and fills the vacuum of competition with Google (and Bing).
Blekko was founded in 2007 by Rich Skrenta, Tom Annau, Mike Markson, and a bunch of former Google and Yahoo engineers. Previously, Skrenta had built Topix and what has become Netscape’s Open Directory Project. For Blekko, his team has created a new distributed computing platform to crawl the web and create search indices. Blekko is backed by notable angels, including Ron Conway, Marc Andreessen, Jeff Clavier, and Mike Maples. It has received a total of $24 million in venture funding, including $14M from U.S. Venture Partners and CMEA capital.
In addition to providing regular search capabilities like Google’s, Blekko allows you to define what it calls “slashtags” and filter the information you retrieve according to your own criteria. Slashtags are mostly human-curated sets of websites built around a specific topic, such ashealth, finance, sports, tech, and colleges. So if you are looking for information about swine flu, you can add “/health” to your query and search only the top 70 or so relevant health sites rather than tens of thousands spam sites. Blekko crowdsources the editorial judgment for what should and should not be in a slashtag, as Wikipedia does. One Blekko user created a slashtag for 2100 college websites. So anyone can do a targeted search for all the schools offering courses in molecular biology, for example. Most searches are like this—they can be restricted to a few thousand relevant sites. The results become much more relevant and trustworthy when you can filter out all the garbage.
- Blekko Goes Social, Now Lets You Search Sites Your Friends Have ‘Liked’ (techcrunch.com)
- Alternative search engine Blekko launches (cnn.com)
- Blekko, Bing And How Facebook Is Changing Search (searchengineland.com)