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Ask HN: Anyone using Blekko instead of Google?
34 points by rkalla on Jan 31, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments
With all the anti-Google sentiment welling up, there are usually a post or two about DDG popping up, but I hear almost nothing about blekko (http://blekko.com/) anymore after their launch and subsequent coverage on TC in 2010.

The few times I have tried raw Blekko (basic search no tweaks with slash tags) it seemed like very comprehensive search results, but they werent ordered to my preferences so I found myself digging to page 4 or 5 before finding what I wanted. I dont know if Google's personalization is just that good or their search is that good.

Is anyone using them? Is anyone giving Google search a run for its money?

I tried Blekko for a bit this past fall and was not terribly impressed. I, frankly, don't understand what the /slash notation is doing. is it a filter? Is it a specific type of search?

However, I have been using DuckDuckGo almost exclusively for the past 2 months and I'm not sure that I'll be going back anytime soon. DDG is touted as being for the privacy conscious, but I can't say that was my primary motivation in switching. I have been increasingly unhappy with Google's 'bubbling' and my searches there increasingly felt like I was running in circles through crappy mailing list archives and spam sites and all their new 'features.'

DDG brought back memories of what drew me to Google in the first place, over a decade ago. It is clean, straightforward, and relevant. Yeah, I know it's running on Yahoo Search APIs which are running on Bing, but it's still a drastically different search experience.

Finally, doing a bit of research into DDGs extras and the !bang notation pages kind of sealed the deal for me. Want to know your IP address? just search "ip" Want lorem ipsum text, just search for that. Want to search the python documentation? Just use !python. Want to re-run your last search in Google? Just add !g Those features alone are enough to make it a true power user's search engine.

Just to be devil's advocate here, everything you list seems to be easy to do using any web browser (since we're talking about power users here):

>Want to know your IP address? just search "ip"


--> Your public IP address is 123.456.789.>256? - Learn more

>Want lorem ipsum text, just search for that

Ok that's pretty cool.

>Want to search the python documentation

For me this is a language other than python, but I have queries in chrome/opera that search by keyword. C++ is c<space>stuff, java is j<space> stuff. As an added benefit, for any internal documentation I can have keywords going directly to internal stuff.

>Want to re-run your last search in Google

Ditto with bing b<space>, amazon a<space>, etc.

As a 'power user' my needs go way beyond what any search engine does. Web browser, scripts, etc pick up the slack.

Also, am I missing something here? Everyone keeps mentioning that DDG runs off of Bing. Do they do anything in the interim to your queries, or do you get the same results by going to bing.com? And if so, is everyone just arguing that bing's results are better than Google's now? (Could be, I dunno).

It is kinda cool that you get wolfram results, etc (wherever they pulled lorem ipsum from for example) all compiled for you instead of having to keyword everything I guess.

And that's enough rambling, sleep.

Hmmm I wasn't too impressed with DDG results in the past. I just tried it again with "efficient self organising maps implementation". The DDG results are completely useless nevermind almost totally irrelevant to my query. Then I remembered American English spelling and tried again with "organizing". DDG results improved, but the fact I have to remember such details is annoying (I don't with Google, Yahoo or Bing).

Having run the query on the other engines, Google & Bing are on par (I use Google exclusively but should probably check Bing from time to time), Yahoo 2nd most useful (somewhat generic results, though), DDG 3rd (student projects in the search results vs. published papers in the other engine results, results that are overly broad) and Blekko the worst (it seems to just pump out results with one or two of the words I queried, no concept of relevance).

Slashtags are a way to build specific search domains. The easiest way to understand one is to build one for yourself.

Example: I built myself a /objc slashtag that includes Apple's docs, Stackoverflow, Cocoadev.com, Mike Ash's blog, and a few other sources.

Now, when I go to blekko and search, say, "calendars /objc", I get only info about calendars in objective-c from those sources, and no noise.

Edit: I find this rather more useful than DDGs ! Syntax in that it's user-extensible, and lets me aggregate many site searches into one slashtag, rather than just punting me to a specific site's engine.

Some slashtags are filters. Other ones are a specific type of search. DDG uses ! in a somewhat similar fashion to /; for example, on blekko, adding /google does your search on google. Adding /python does your search on a list of 136 important Python websites. And you can volunteer to help edit the /python slashtag.

I hadn't heard of Blekko, so I Googled it, but I accidentally typed it "blekki". Google autocorrected it, and Blekko was still the top result.

That didn't happen on Blekko. I got a lot of results about Bill Lekki. Then a few minutes later the results changed and the Wikipedia page for Blekko was the top result. Weird.

Looks like the Blekko team was watching this thread and probably the traffic in-bound from it and (maybe) tweaking on the fly.

I've been using Scroogle for a while, which just aggregates Google searches to its own IPs so that you remain anonymous to Google. There are four problems with Scroogle, not necessarily easy to solve:

(1) No Google Maps. Honestly I'll probably keep using Google Maps whatever else happens. I could give up Gmail and I'd still keep Google Maps. (2) No Google Calculator. This would be more important if Google hadn't changed their calculator app over the past couple of years, making it much more difficult/useless for unit conversions. Still, it would be nice if I could get Google Calculator results through Scroogle, and it shouldn't be that hard. (3) No image searches. This is one big reason to use Blekko right now; it is not Google Images and it has a nice image search which can be activated from the search line. (4) Scroogle keeps going down. This is Google's fault; Google should have whitelisted Scroogle as not-a-bot and supported their endeavor. Over the past months the problem has been that Google thinks Scroogle is a bot; but every couple of months there's also a time-frame where Google changes the antiquated search pages which Scroogle queries to make its searches.

For all that, I still like Scroogle and will probably continue to use it for the next couple of months. But Blekko is where I go when I want to do an image search.

The SEO links on Blekko are really useful but I could never go without my !bang syntax. DDG and chrome are my default with google just a !g away.

You can set this up at the browser level to work with any sort of search. Look up Firefox Quick Searches (a similar thing exists in Chrome).

what's blekko?

"all the anti-google sentiment" is nonsense. it's not really anti-google. people get emotional about products and companies they care about. the people who whine about every little change google makes are the same ones who whine about every little change facebook makes: the biggest fans of those products.

No its rather apt in my opinion.


"Google acknowledged in the settlement that it had improperly and knowingly assisted online pharmacy advertisers allegedly based in Canada to run advertisements for illicit pharmacy sales targeting U.S. customers."

Oh hello whats this? Google execs knowingly assisting illegal operations peddling illicit drugs from manufactures unknown? Since when does their 'lets not be evil overlords' policy include knowingly taking cash to help peddle drugs coming from illicit sources.

"By the end of the operation in mid-2009, agents were buying Google ads for sites purportedly selling such prescription-only narcotics as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Agents also got Google's sales office in China to approve a site selling Prozac and Valium to U.S. customers without a prescription.

"Google's employees were instrumental in bypassing policy regarding pharmacy verification," Mr. Whitaker told the Journal. "The websites were blatantly illegal."

At the agents' direction, Mr. Whitaker said he signaled his illegal intent to Google ad executives, including Google's top manager in Mexico. As a tape recorder ran, he walked Google executives through the illegal parts of the websites. He said he told ad executives that U.S. Customs had seized shipments, for example, and that one client wanted to be "the biggest steroid dealer in the United States.""

Seriously what the fuck? The anti-google sentiment is nonsense?

"The government's case also contained potentially embarrassing allegations that top Google executives, including co-founder Larry Page, were told about legal problems with the drug ads.

Mr. Page, now Google's chief executive, knew about the illicit conduct, said Mr. Neronha, the U.S. attorney for Rhode Island who led the multiagency federal task force that conducted the sting. "We simply know from the documents we reviewed and witnesses we interviewed that Larry Page knew what was going on," he said in an interview after the August settlement.

Mr. Neronha declined to detail the evidence, which was presented in secret to a federal grand jury. Other people familiar with the case said internal emails showed Sheryl Sandberg, a former top Google executive who left in 2008 for Facebook Inc., had raised concerns about the ads."

I'm sure it was just a rogue employee of one of their far off subsids, oh wait nevermind I guess it went to the top, lulz. Sorry for posting so much of the article but your simple ignorant line deserves all the filth contained in the url, I'd rather not depend on you clicking to read it.

The actions listed in that article even at their most innocent leaves me with such a foul feeling that it can be nothing else but Evil.

I agree with the sentiment, but "Google execs knowingly assisting illegal operations peddling illicit drugs from manufactures unknown?"

I think it's more like Google knowingly helping people bypass the pharmaceutical equivalent of DVD Region-coding.

The drugs people were buying were the same stuff you guys get down there in the states, they were just available for cheaper because Canadians pay less for drugs. It's also my understanding that Canada has stricter regulations on drug safety than the US, so your portrayal seems a bit FUD-y.

From wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharmacy#Internet_pharmacy)

"Canada is home to dozens of licensed internet pharmacies, many of which sell their lower-cost prescription drugs to U.S. consumers, who pay one of the world's highest drug prices.[11] In recent years, many consumers in the US and in other countries with high drug costs, have turned to licensed internet pharmacies in India, Israel and the UK, which often have even lower prices than in Canada. In the United States, there has been a push to legalize importation of medications from Canada and other countries, in order to reduce consumer costs. While in most cases importation of prescription medications violates Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations and federal laws, enforcement is generally targeted at international drug suppliers, rather than consumers. There is no known case of any U.S. citizens buying Canadian drugs for personal use with a prescription, who has ever been charged by authorities."

When medication does not go through legit supply channels you cannot trust the product, accountability is gone. Trusting illicit pharma spammers to source legit medication is laughable.

Edit: Not laughable, horrific and sad.

I don't want to conflate the whole Canadian pharmacy thing with criminal activities related to buying drugs online. The fact is there are Canadian pharmacies that are licensed by the gov., and only sell legit products, and they do it online. As a Canadian, if I buy them it's basically the same as popping down to the Pharmaprix and shopping there.

If an American buys from one of them they are making a safe purchase IMO, but breaking drug importation laws put in place more to protect the bottom lines of drug companies then to protect the consumer.

Now if a canadian or an american buys drugs online without reasonable assurances they're dealing with a reputable company... well that is stupid/sad/dangerous as you said.

That is where Google crossed the line into being evil, bypassing their own internal checks and regulations accepting cash for ads to sites that never were associated with any real pharmacy or any product at all. Judging by Glavmed's success and shadier sites with shop fronts calling themselves "Canadian" this is totally not isolated to one paid snitch.

These rogue pharmas source from India for generics, wherever they can to buy branded narcotics, and lord knows where for counterfeit opiates/benzos. Real Canadian pharmacies used to be more directly involved selling to the US, including narcotics, but that was years ago. The dirty bit is not at the pharmacy selling to people with prescriptions but those knowingly diverting to unscripted use, or the mules who use doctors to fill out scripts that then get sold. Then at the pharma affiliate networks paying spammers for traffic. Spammers paying google for adverts pointing to shop fronts. GOOGLE ACCEPTING CASH AND BYPASSING THEIR CHECKS THAT SEE IF ALL THE ACTORS MENTIONED PREVIOUSLY ARE LEGIT who then post the adverts to the shop fronts who may or may not be listed as Canadian who may or may not be sourcing via legal means from what may or may not be a Canadian pharmacy.

Krebsonsecurity.com has multiple write-ups on these types of operations which use advertisers like Google for traffic. In this case though Google employees at multiple levels went beyond just being a provider of traffic to being an co-partner in the conspiracy.

The term "illicit drugs" is a little disingenuous. Google wasn't posting ads for heroine. They were posting ads for pharmacies that sold Claritin a few dollars cheaper than US sellers.

Apparently you have a hard time reading since I posted the link to the story I am refering to along with the quote in the comment you replied to that is totally contrary to what you stated. So here we go for a second time:

"By the end of the operation in mid-2009, agents were buying Google ads for sites purportedly selling such prescription-only narcotics as oxycodone and hydrocodone. Agents also got Google's sales office in China to approve a site selling Prozac and Valium to U.S. customers without a prescription."

Google wasn't posting ads for 'heroine' alright, they were posting ads for what they thought were suppliers of opiates who were selling without prescription. Illicit pharma opiates are in the same catagory as illicit black market opiates or, heroin as its called. If you cared to actually read before responding you would know that this was all included in the article.

Funny you asked. I signed up couple of days ago, deciding that slash tags should be the best way to get rid of all the crap in google's search results. I was a little confused though. Does Blekko expect me to choose which slash tag I want to use for my query? If that is the case, I think it will be hard for them to go mainstream. I can do it, no problem. But an average user will not be able to. I was expecting some sort of an intelligent algorithm which would decide which slash tags to use with my query. I think it all should be seamless to the user. They should curate the slash tags themselves and apply them to the search queries when relevant.

They've been around for a while. So I think it is fair to expect more powerful features from them. Color me worried. It would be a shame if they don't get more momentum. I think their idea of slash tags is a killer one. I just think they have not implemented enough or going to the wrong direction.

To sum up: 1) slash tags are just brilliant. 2) slash tags should be seamless to the user and be applied by Blekko automatically to each search query. 3) They should build their own slash tags, not relying on crows sourced ones. They should go crazy about this. Doesn't seem like they are. 4) More power to them. I love them

Have you tried blekko? We suggest slashtags as you type, we suggest more slashtags after you've searched, and we often automatically add slashtags to your search if you didn't specify one. Most of the /blekko slashtags (the most visible) ones are build by a combination of our in-house content team, and subject-matter experts -- the /health slashtag has an outside editor who's a medical librarian at a major teaching hospital.

Great suggestions! :-)

Yes I did. And I will continue using it. I guess my point is that a user should not even be aware of the fact that you use slash tags. I mean who cares what technology you use to give better results? Let that be a power user thing.

I also don't get the Facebook integration. Especially in your case. Your focus is on great content. Facebook is junk as far as content is concerned. Before Facebook I used to receive stupid emails with links to funny videos, cartoons and jokes that I'd immediately delete. I have not been receiving them for a few years because all of that stupidity went to Facebook, thank God. What valuable result do you expect to retrieve from there?

Given Blekko's focus on content quality and relevancy, I'd expect integration with Twitter if you really feel like you must do something on that front. Or integration with anything that people subscribe to for great content. RSS feeds come to mind. I don't know if this is possible but an integration with Google Reader would be beneficial for me. You may also try to add social features to your site such as an RSS reader that you can use to integrate to your search results. Again, I don't think this is such a big deal but if you are spending resources on integrating to Facebook, you might be better off spending them on integration with Twitter and the like.

Just my two cents. Like I said, I love you guys and I think categorizing and curating content on the Internet is the way to go.

You can turn any search result into an rss feed with /rss, and put that into Google Reader or your favorite rss reader (I use NewsBlur.) This works best with date-sorted searches.

If you survey your friends about Facebook, you'll find that many of them like the idea of seeing their friends' likes and comments in searches. Personally, I don't like it, so I clicked "No Facebook" in the prefs.

Turning search results into RSS feeds pretty cool but it is something entirely different. What I meant was, to include the pages in my RSS feeds I am subscribed to, to the search you are doing just like you include Facebook to your search.

Regarding Facebook integration. Can you give me a use case where this integration is helpful and improves the search results? I don't think the survey argument is a valid one because our friends are usually not qualified enough to make an informed decision on this.

Ah, we've run some experiments with that kind of RSS or history search, but haven't shipped anything.

The use case for Facebook is people who want to search for stuff their friends like. As I said, that's not me, and you said it wasn't you, but you probably know some friends for whom that sort of thing matters.

I was surprised to finally see my own blog showing up in the results when I googl-, err, searched for my own name. But then I searched for "name /blog" and my blog disappeared. It did however show an irrelevant GitHub page with a pull request I once submitted. So it seems to work for rough searches but refining needs some... Refining. I won't be making the switch today.

Assuming you mean elbertf.com, I filed a bug. We did recognize it as a WordPress blog, but for some reason the front page is getting a poor rank with /blog and is OK without it. BTW, you can send bug reports like this to support@blekko.com.

Thanks, that's the one!

Alexa data would suggest that their popularity is increasing: http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/blekko.com#

I really like some of their services like "Grep the Web" however I'm too used to Google to change (plus I don't see any other search engine drive anywhere near the volume they do).

alexa is HIGHLY unreliable. you might as well ask duckduckgo about blekko's performance.

I tried to use it months ago while I found Google was slow here. But Blekko's Chinese search results are quite bad.

We're concentrating on the US and English for now. A startup can only do so much, so fast.

Using it from Japan I had some issues as well. Even in English it's not quite global yet. I guess Blekko might be good to see what's going on in the US market...

I tried to use blekko, but I found their search results not very relevant. However I using them from time to time just to show my support and to check if there is any improvement in search relevance.

Our last big step up in relevance was launched on December 15, have you tried us since?

I find it a little ironic that I had to Google "Blekko". Aside from this, Blekko's results are not as good as Google. For me at least.

We'd love to hear your feedback at support@blekko.com, thanks!

What are Blekko's thoughts on 'do no evil'? If they get popular, would they fall into the same trap that Google has, or would they stay pure?

This is an impossible-to-answer question. I do NOT speak for the Blekko company, but while they are small and making $100,000s or millions it is easy to say "We are free, no spying!" (same for DDG).

As soon as you take Blekko public and they are making BILLIONS and beholden to stock holders, they won't have a choice but to slowly roll that back just like we are seeing with Google.

The market won't let Google stay ambivalent; not with all that potential for profit.

You can check out our privacy policy and prefs -- we let you opt out of all ads, out of facebook integration, etc etc, so that we don't collect info about people who don't want it collected.

Yes, I use Blekko regularly. I'm often (but not always) pleasantly surprised with it's search results.

The slashes take some getting used to, but Blekko is worth an honest go.

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