Working As Intended

Experimenting With Blekko Over Google

January 7th 2011

Google has been the home page on every browser that I’ve used over the last 10 years. Today I switched to blekko on my development laptop.

The Problem

The catalyst for this switch comes from Google’s degraded search results when looking up programming-related information. I post a lot on stackoverflow, mainly on the topics of Ruby and/or Rails. I do this as a way to give back, since I’ve benefited so much in the past and present from the advice that others have freely given. Finding this advice used to be easy: you just Google it. It was so easy that it became its own obnoxious pseudo-verb.

Part of the deal with stackoverflow is that what you post there is covered by a very open license. Fine and dandy, we know that going in. It’s inevitable with a site as good as SO that bottom feeders will scrape it into their own ad farms. Google ranks those sites poorly though right? Wrong. These toilets who I will not name here somehow manage to clog up Google’s search results, usually appearing above the source of the original content itself. This is broken.

I’ve been crying about not having a personal blacklist on Google for quite a while now. It seems that the all-powerful Google is not interested in implementing this feature. I figured I was alone in this, but this topic on HN blew up with comments yesterday. I’ve known about, and been highly uninterested in, the Chrome plugin that behaves like a blacklist for Google. I wanted something more universal than that. Plus I rarely use Chrome.

Enter blekko

I’ve seen blekko thrown around on HN over the last few weeks, but paid it little attention at first. My initial reaction was, “Wow, the all-lower-case motif is terrible. This has to be a joke, right?” Well, I finally got around to using the thing and while it’s not without problems I’m going to give it a try for a couple weeks.

First of all, it’s in beta and clearly not perfect. The UI tends to morph over time, and doesn’t always match their documentation. Sometimes the site is slow to respond. It does, however, have a compelling feature that it calls slashtags. It’s a powerful feature with a dumb name. Here’s the beauty inherent in the system. These tags represent filters to your search. They are a combination of site whitelists and API calls that have been built for various sites like Twitter and Amazon.

Here is a simple example. Let’s say that I want to search for “string,” meaning “the String class in Ruby.” This is an admittedly stupid, since I could type “ruby string” into any search engine in the world and get back what I’m looking for. (If you run a search engine that this test would fail on, please do us all a favor and take a bulldozer to your server room.) In any case, searching for “string” typically brings back Java- and PHP-related results, since those are more popular than Ruby. However, with blekko I can type or click on my “/rails” or “/ruby” tags and have that search only apply to that which has been blessed by the tag’s editors. Instant satisfaction, and no sites that I don’t want to see.

Blekko has its own growing list of tags, which are edited by employees and volunteers. This is nice, but the cool part is that you can make your own tags. The namespace of your tags is /username/tag, but you only have to type the /tag part as blekko searches your personal namespace first. If you really want the global tag, you can force it with /blekko/tag. So far this is neat, but not worth changing my homepage over yet.

The killer combo

  1. When creating your own slashtag you can include both individual sites and other slashtags. This lets you whitelist sites that you like, but offloads the bulk of the work to the editors of the other tags that you’ve included.
  2. You can mark any site you want as spam. It becomes “dead to you” as they put it. Personal blacklist. So if I’m using /blekko/rails as part of my own /jdl/rails tag and someone adds a site I don’t like to the main tag, I can easily nuke it from orbit.

e-freedom indeed

Attention Google: This is what’s called a “useful feature.”

blog comments powered by Disqus

Feed Feed