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Blekko, the "Slashtag" search engine is slow, cumbersome, and just plain broken

Blekko, despite how it sounds, is a search engine -- not a euphemism for vomit.

It's a search engine that, in its quest to go up against bigger opponents like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, has tried to set itself apart by lumping operators into "slashtags," calling itself "social," and touting how "open" and "transparent" its search results are. It also tries to put an overwhelmingly positive spin on human bias playing a huge role in search rankings. Blekko hopes to attract not just disillusioned power-users, but everyday users as well -- and from what I've seen, that doesn't seem very likely.

For starters, if you share the aversion to the three-letter acronym SEO that many users of social media tend to have these days, this search engine is not for you. If you like to get your search results very quickly, then this search engine probably isn't for you. If you like your search engine to be intuitive, and furthermore, to get decent results with a minimum amount of finagling, then I have to say that Blekko is not the search engine for you.

I spent a couple of solid hours using Blekko in a vain attempt to find a reason for all the hype. After all, The New York Times went as far as to call Blekko "A New Search Engine, Where Less Is More," and our own AOL compatriot Michael Arrington gave it plenty of positive attention at TechCrunch. I was actually hoping that there might be some worth to the plucky little upstart -- but instead I found a bloated, buggy search engine with largely worthless, extremely inaccurate results, regardless of what slashtag I used to "vertically narrow" my search.

Take the bit about SEO, for example. Blekko's creators have tried to make it seem like it's the one and only search engine that isn't gamed by SEO, and that if you use Blekko, you'll never be bothered by such sleazy rubbish again. This is not the case. In fact, the very first thing I saw when I hit Blekko's front page was a bar across the top that read "install the Blekko toolbar: Uncover SEO data as you browse." As if that weren't unnerving enough, each and every search result has an SEO button for the user to press that promotes it in the ranking for that search query. It's literally a text link that says "SEO" -- as though the letters themselves were a new phrase for "like this" or "vote." The more time I spent looking around the site, the more I realized that the folks at Blekko aren't against SEO, they're obsessed with it, and that doesn't exactly give me the warm and fuzzies.

Then there's the fact that Blekko is just plain slow. Now, it could just be that my expectations are simply too high, after having been spoiled by years of Google and its ability to return thousands of results in mere milliseconds, but this is 2010. I don't care if I am spoiled by ridiculously fast search engines, there's really no good reason to be content with having to wait 2 or 3 full seconds for search results (especially when the vast majority of the public doesn't even know the site exists yet, and therefore can't be bogging it down with traffic).

Then there's the biggest piece of the puzzle, the slashtags. The idea behind them is for a person to search for a broad query, like Seattle, and then to narrow the search according to what sort of information they're looking for by adding tags like /tech, /images, /people, /green or /shop. If, say, you input Seattle /tech, the idea is that you would get results about technology news and companies related to Seattle. If you use the slashtag /date, your results' relevancy is filtered to be based on how recent they are.

So, seeing that /shop is one of the main pre-made slashtags provided by Blekko, I tried Seattle /shop, and expected to see refined search results that would help a would-be shopper find places to spend their money in Seattle. It listed random items from that had Seattle in their titles. Using /tech netted better, more logical results, but I still had to stifle a laugh that the #2 result on the page was the iTunes movie trailer for Battle in Seattle. If you use /twitter, it simply regurgitates results that you would get for your query at, and if you use /map or /traffic, you get a (very) small Bing map for the location you searched for. You might think that the slashtags aren't all that important anyway, but when I searched for just plain Seattle, 3 of the top 5 results were duplicate entries for the homepage -- not the kind of results I would call useful.

If you're wondering about Blekko's image search capabilities, I'm afraid they're about as sad as sad gets. To search images, you use the /images slashtag. Unfortunately, the results you get when doing this are one single page of 50 tiny thumbnails, which link directly to their source images. There is no link provided to the actual pages the images came from, and more disturbingly, there's no second page. My search for Seattle /images supposedly got 5330000 results, but there is no way to see past the first 50. This is obviously a massive bug, but it's still not the sort of thing you'd expect to on a site hoping to take on the likes of Google.

This was just my experience, and I encourage everyone to go try Blekko for themselves, and form their own opinion. Some are sure to fall in love with the romantic idea of a geekier Internet where / characters are used for no apparent reason, but I have a feeling that most users out there are going to value the speed and accuracy of the more traditional behemoths of old. Even if they are opaque about their rankings, and easy to game with traditional SEO tricks.

Tags: bing, blekko, google, search, seo, twitter, yahoo