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Blekko Launches a Search Engine With Bias 133

Pickens writes "Previous specialized search engines including Cuil, Hakia, Powerset, Clusty, and RedZ — each had a special trick, but they've all faded from memory, some after crashing in flames, some after making their founders rich. Now Rafe Needleman reports at Cnet that along comes Blekko, whose claim to fame is that you can tilt your search results in the direction you like by using a category of bias, like 'liberal' or 'conservative.' Categorization lists are applied by appending a 'slashtag.' The query, 'climate change /conservative' will give you politically slanted results, for example. 'Climate change /science' will restrict your results to hits from scientific Web sites. Blekko won't have a real, Web-wide impact unless its concept — that bias is good and more aggressive search filtering is needed — gets some traction, writes Needleman. But 'Blekko is a solid alternative to Google and Bing for anyone, and more importantly it's got great potential for researchers, librarians, journalists, or anyone who's willing to put some work into how their search engine functions in order to get better results.'"
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Blekko Launches a Search Engine With Bias

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  • Kittens (Score:5, Funny)

    by RabbitWho ( 1805112 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:47AM (#34089128) Homepage Journal
    This has been my home page for a while. (You can get invites from their twitter). What sold me was kittens /liberal vs kittens /conservative
    • Speaking of versus []...

    • Priceless! In both searches I found mention of a PETA project to rename fish as "sea kittens" so people would feel guilty about fishing...

      Hey, that gives me an idea! How about using a line and hook to catch kittens? One could use live mice as bait.

    • I sense arguments being made on slashdot based on which side has more results as an end tag.

      "Google has more results for 'its cool' than 'it's cool' so that's clearly correct" etc

    • Hahaha. "kittens /liberal" first hit: "PETA Wants To Rename Fish Sea Kittens." "kittens /conservative" first hit: "Power Line - Let's Fry Up Some Sea Kittens."
  • ... for example. "Climate change /science" will restrict your results to hits from scientific Web sites.

    Massive failure on that example [] unless you consider the top three results (, and to be more than just news sites. And (of course you new this was coming) the gold standard does a better job with the same search [].

    Of the first page of Blekko results, I'd argue that only half of them have any business being on there. The other problem is that a lot of things like date ranges or news that this slashtag hopes to fill is already covered by Google's advanced notation []. People who need these have probably already learned to use them (for instance the term helps me see if a story has already been up on a topic). If you want a bias other than range restrictions, just add it as a search term.

    I spent a lot of time playing around with this and nothing I tried really jumped out at me as "useful." Of course I was just fiddling around and not really looking for anything in particular.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AdmiralXyz ( 1378985 )
      Actually I think it's doing exactly the right thing. I think the problem with your expectations is that "climate change" is such a huge topic. When looking for things like scholarly papers, actual academics would never use a term like "climate change" in a search engine, it's way too broad. Do you want air temperatures or ocean temperatures, effects on biospheres, which time periods are you looking at, how is the data normalized... I could go on like this for a while. Hell, at a typical big research univers
    • What I like about it is it's user generated search, if the results are crap, you can fix them. I think the more people use it the better it's going to get.
      • I think the more people use it the better it's going to get.

        I hate to say "duh", but every search engine works that way. Google takes into account what people are clicking on when they do a search, and if the top answers aren't getting clicked, they move on down. The first search engines pretty much used this as a metric, plus meta tags.

    • Of course I was just fiddling around and not really looking for anything in particular.

      You get absolutely fantastic results if you use the "BS marketing" or "investor attractor" biases rather than the "reality" bias.

    • I agree with your position that Blekko isn't really useful when you have the option of jumping onto Advanced Google.

      I can see people using it in the future if a community builds up that uses the slashtags dilligently. It seems to be hivemind powered, at least to a certain degree.

      Unfortunately, I don't see this ever working as envisioned, because the terms that describe the bias can never be free from bias. Endless debate over which sources are "liberal" and "conservative" will ensue. The best we can hop

  • The bias of bias (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bongo ( 13261 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:50AM (#34089186)

    Bias is inherent in everyone, this engine included. Who decides what fits a category? It is up to individuals to interpret the bias. Who decides whether something should appear in /terrorist or /freedomfighter ?

    • The person who makes the list decides that, and the lists are mostly editable by all members.
    • That is an active, declared, stance. You are telling the search engine "Make the results like this," and it is.

      Normally when talking about bias what someone means is a balance in a direction that is unintentional and unnoticed on the part of the person doing it. They are biased towards or against something and it effects what they do, but they don't know it. When they believe they are neutral they are in fact not.

      A geek analogy would simply be one of electrical circuits. If you have a properly working ampli

    • Hopefully articles on subjects pertaining to one automatically would qualify for the other, in your example.

      Guy Fawkes was a terrorist. Guy Fawkes was a revolutionary.
  • Bias? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:52AM (#34089214) Journal

    I can't see how this is a good idea.The people who hate NPR (liberal) or FOX (conservative) without ever listening to either, already have plenty of places to get their bias quota. We don't need any more mind numb drones for the political classes.

    • by drpimp ( 900837 )
      "The people who hate MSNBC (liberal) or FOX (conservative) ...."
      There fixed that for you.
    • I am amazed that you didnt cite MSNBC as the go-to source for liberal bias while citing FOX as the go-to source for conservative bias.

      This suggests that you hold a very large left-leaning bias.
      • NPR has become the main news-enemy again in the mind of a lot of conservatives after they fired Juan Williams a couple weeks ago for what appeared to be a somewhat conservative opinion. You can see the details here [].

        The reasons for firing do seem a bit contrived, but I haven't dug into it enough to know; it could be that good old Juan was sleeping with some executive's girlfriend or something and that's the real reason for firing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by N0Man74 ( 1620447 )

      I can't see how this is a good idea.The people who hate NPR (liberal) or FOX (conservative) without ever listening to either, already have plenty of places to get their bias quota. We don't need any more mind numb drones for the political classes.

      Are you suggesting that NPR promotes the left as FOX promotes the right?

      Have you actually listened to NPR, or are you just assuming that the FOX propaganda regarding NPR is true?

      • You appear to disagree. Are you more left or more right? :)

        I listen to NPR ... in general, they seem to at least try to give both sides. It seems to me, though, that most of the commentators/show folks are somewhat more left than I am, and generally more supportive of, if I were to name a party, Democrats than Republicans. They also seem to have certain ... issues/agendas that they do push, though they aren't necessarily conservative or liberal.

      • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @12:15PM (#34090590)

        I mention this in another post.

        So Fox news is NOT biased. No, really, they aren't. The reason is they know exactly what they are doing. They don't think they are perfectly in the center, they don't think they are trying to be equal. They know they are supporting republican causes and agendas. They may not admit as much, bu they know it. It is an active, purposeful stance. It is not bias.

        Bias is when you are trying to do something, but don't (at least not completely) because you are predisposed for or against something. So bias in the media would be something like a story not getting reported on because the editors decide it "isn't news" because it tells a narrative they don't like. They aren't actively working to suppress it, they just don't like it and thus decide it isn't news worthy, not realizing what they are doing.

        You do discover bias in new media, no surprise it happens in all human endeavors. Fox News just isn't a good example because they are actively working towards a stance. It isn't bias if it is your actual goal.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          I respectfully disagree with you on this. There is nothing in my experience with the usage of the word "bias" to indicate that intent has anything to do with it. It may be ethically unjustifiable to be intentionally biased, but it is a perfectly legitimate use of the word.

          bias [] (bs)
          1. A line going diagonally across the grain of fabric: Cut the cloth on the bias.
          a. A preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment.
          b. An unfair act or policy stemming from prejudice.

      • Juan Williams was FIRED from NPR for expressing his views on FOX. Political Correctness of the Liberals run amok.

        Being biased doesn't mean you're not reporting the "facts", bias comes across when reporting the "facts", whether or not a "fact" is buried deep in an article or report.

        Finding out that the perp was "white" in the first paragraph is bias, if you don't report the similar fact when it isn't a "white" guy. You know, burying the fact that the guy who wanted to blow something up was "muslim" on the se

        • You are muddying the issue here with the Juan Williams story. The fact that Williams was fired doesn't in itself prove anything about whether their programming or reporting has left bias.

          I'm not saying that I support the decision to fire him. I think it was kind of boneheaded, but at the same time I can at some level understand how NPR does not want to seem like they are tolerant of anti-Muslim bias.

          However, your equating being afraid of Muslims as natural as being afraid of sharks in itself sounds like a

          • Muslims have bombed people. So have extremists white Christians. So have many other racial, ethnic, or religious groups.

            You must watch "The View" and think "Insightful!"

            When was the last "Extremist White Christian" bombing you can think of off the top of your head.

            Your bias is trying to get moral equivalency when there is none. Nice try though.

            You are muddying the issue here with the Juan Williams story. The fact that Williams was fired doesn't in itself prove anything about whether their programming or rep

            • When was the last "Extremist White Christian" bombing you can think of off the top of your head.

              The US bombing of Afghanistan. Bush said he believes we live in the end times, and that god works through him.

            • When was the last "Extremist White Christian" bombing you can think of off the top of your head.

              I believe that the last "bombing" that resulted in a fatality was in 1998, by Eric Robert Rudolph. Of course, it was nowhere near the scale of destruction as the WTC towers, however that wasn't simply a bomb either.

              The point is that there are extremist whack-jobs (as well as moderates) in just about any religious or political groups.

              If you think that Muslims are the only people that have dangerous nutcases, then you are naive. Furthermore, If you think violent Muslim extremists are the norm, rather than t

      • by slapout ( 93640 )

        Have you actually listened to FOX, or are you just assuming that the propaganda regarding FOX is true?

        • Please, tell me, where is the anti-FOX "propaganda"?

          Nobody has to create propaganda to make FOX look bad. They can be completely honest and show what they have to say, and FOX frequently appears to then satirize themselves.

          And yes, I've seen far more FOX than I have ever wanted.

          I've also even seen guests or commentators on FOX presenting a reasonable opinion that I found myself actually agreeing with. I even once found myself agreeing with Glenn Beck on an issue. Usually it's followed up with the rest of

    • by izomiac ( 815208 )
      Well, at least it forces you to own up to your own bias. Plus it's useful if you want to learn about the other side. Even people that are mostly wrong usually have a few good points, so it's a good way of knowing the shortcomings of your own position.
    • by martas ( 1439879 )
      perhaps "context" would be a more appropriate description. and i can think of cases when that could be useful. for example, i want to know what LDA stands for while i'm reading a semi-supervised learning paper. google search for "LDA", not much related to machine learning pops up. in this case it's relatively easy to overcome that problem (just search "LDA dimension"), but in some cases it's not so easy. this could come in handy, and i'm keeping it in mind so i can test it when the need arises.
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:52AM (#34089216) Journal

    Obamacare fiscal implications /liberal = Will save us trillions!
    WMDs in Iraq /neo-con = We'll find them on every street corner!
    Sex education /catholic = Condoms don't prevent AIDS
    Gun control /bloomberg = We need tougher gun laws because criminals follow them
    How to give a concession speech /howard dean = YEEEEEEAAAAAAH!
    Unbiased news /conservative = Fox News
    Unbiased news /liberal = MSNBC
    Unbiased news = No results round.

    • Sad as it is, if you're seeking unbiased news, you can get it from the Daily Show... sort of.

      It isn't really a news site, and it does at first glance have a pretty decent liberal slant, until you realize its not really slant, just a product of the fact that the show is about making fun of dishonest media, which happens to be much stronger from the opposite side of the spectrum you think they're biased in, and they do in fact target both sides.

      The news side is also not really intentional, its just they make

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jahudabudy ( 714731 )
        As an aside, after watching The Rally to Restore Sanity, I did a quick comparison Sunday. Fox online article gave the definite impression it was a pro legalizing marijuana/anti-tea party rally. MS NBC gave the impression that it was a pro Dem/Liberal rally. NY Times gave the same impression (and was the only place that didn't have a front page article on the rally). All three of them portrayed it in a somewhat negative light (Fox actually was the mildest article as far as it's language, despite the biza
  • I see huge potential in selling this to Tea Party members and other political groups so they don't need to be confused by other points of view!

    • I see huge potential in selling this to Tea Party members and other political groups so they don't need to be confused by other points of view!

      They already have conservapedia.

    • That's my concern. These folks already filter out reality without help. If they can just hit a button and have the engine do it for them then they don't have to worry about accidentally coming into contact with some inconvenient facts.

      Considering the people who declared the rally for a return to sanity as a liberal get together I doubt we get something else. Especially considering that the satellite rally I attended seem to have just as many people on the conservative side of things as the liberal side.
  • Like (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymusing ( 1450747 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:53AM (#34089224)

    This looks like a professional heavyweight cousin of [], a relatively simple Google hack I posted some weeks back. Very cool.

    (though I still like seeing the results side-by-side.)

  • I can't hear dissenting opinions!
  • This might not be so bad.

    I can just see Fox News anchors with actual quotes to back up their uninformed stances on on the issues they have chosen to rally behind... or more often against.

  • Unneeded? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:54AM (#34089244) Journal

    If I want to further specify search keywords to add bias to my search in Google, I can. Unless Blekko is *really, really* good at this, I'm not sure I see how it will end up better than google with the same keywords without the slash?

    I suppose it's an interesting *idea*, but the devil will be in the detail of getting the filtering to be really good, better than bing, yahoo, or google with similar searches.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Greg Lindahl ( 37568 )

      How about searching for

      industrial design colleges

      On google, no actual colleges. On Blekko, it auto-slashtags it to industrial design /colleges, and 100% of the results are colleges.

      • by SnowZero ( 92219 )

        No college calls itself a "colleges". If you search in the plural, you get sites that list colleges (which seems perfectly reasonable). With the singular "college" you get a mix of college listing sites and a few schools.

        If you want a list of only colleges in google, just search for "industrial design college site:edu" (or whatever extension for schools in your country of interest). Yes, not many folks know how to use "site:", but then most folks won't figure out slashtags either.

        • It does raise the point that google is a little strict about plurals. If you accidentally leave one in it can totally bone your search results.

  • ...great, just what people need.

    • On the topic of reality distortion fields: jobs /apple [] versus apple /jobs []
    • ...great, just what people need.

      Problem is... these distortion generators already exist in abundance. People have no trouble gravitating to as many of their preferred degree of polarity as they have time to surf. The novelty here is that it is adjustable so one site serves all (in theory).

      This has a certain subversively educational appeal. Making the issue of bias in providing (or absorbing) information explicit forces people to confront and think about the issue.

      Unfortunately only people who are curious, undogmatic and reflective are lik

  • Oh, god. As if it weren't easy enough already to find only information that only supports what you already believe, here's a search engine that deliberately provides blinders.

    How about a search engine that analyzes your search, and then guides you to sites that show you information that confronts what you think you know with thoughtful and clearly-reasoned analysis and real, verifiable data?

    Oh, wait-- clearly-reasoned and thoughtful analysis? This is the internet we're talking about. That gets buried und

    • One thing I've noticed is that the best trolling is earnestly advocating for reality using well reasoned arguments. Of all the times I've been accused of trolling and had the most folks angry at me, invariably, I was doing just that.

      And it's not just me, I've noticed it being done to others as well. People seem to hate that "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take any more than can reasonably be expected" stance.
  • One problem (Score:3, Informative)

    by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @10:57AM (#34089298)
    What if you have a liberal/conservative [] government? In the UK liberal is becoming conservative
    • In Europe, what Americans call Conservative are Liberal, and what we call Liberal are Socialist.

      This is obviously a "search engine" for American Neo-Cons.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by eriqk ( 1902450 )
      Then again, liberal has been conservative since 1848.
  • []

    No clue how it works, but the search results seem to be skewed towards Ubuntu. I try not to use it for that exact reason: not understanding the mechanism of altering.
  • by COMON$ ( 806135 )
    Current Events /Moderate

    0 results, please try expanding search parameters

  • Maybe now we can find out the real TRUTH about everything? This is the search customization we REALLY need :)
  • by MikeRT ( 947531 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @11:06AM (#34089418)

    Political factions are not siloed. They come together, mix, mutate and spread apart under a variety of circumstances, personalities, etc.

    For example, I've known many religious conservatives who social views are "reactionary," but are functionally libertarian in their politics. Likewise, many liberals claim to be about individual freedom, but the policies they support (non-discrimination laws, speech codes, gun control, high taxes) when applied to individuals are extremely illiberal.

    Most people cannot even get Fascism right. They think it's just "totalitarianism" or "corporations owning the government" (I've even had teachers say it is just "militant nationalism") rather than understanding that it is a fusion of right-wing and left-wing thought into a more advanced form of Socialism which attempts to achieve Socialist ends through a more market-oriented system (where the state generally directs, but doesn't explicitly own, private business through regulation).

    In order to even train some sort of AI to figure this out, the developers would have to have an incredible level of domain knowledge of politics and history that would rival the level of knowledge that hardcore game designers typically have of Physics and Geometry.

    I suppose they could do something like PageRank where they just assume that certain similarities imply a position in politics, but that won't be accurate for obvious reasons.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I think it's your definition of Fascism that is screwed.

      Fascism is about nationalism and strong divisions of social class.

      Socialism is about internationalism and removal of social class barriers (at least in theory).

      It is true that both advocate a strong central state, but that is the only similarity.

    • rival the level of knowledge that hardcore game designers typically have of Physics and Geometry.

      You mean, it's almost right, and looks like it's doing what you think it's doing, so it's good? ... oh shit rocket jump!

    • I suppose the better question is who gets to define which political groupings are associated with each other and think what. Do Democrats get to associate Conservatives with Nazis? Do Republicans get to associate Liberals with Communists?

    • Likewise, many liberals claim to be about individual freedom, but the policies they support (non-discrimination laws, speech codes, gun control, high taxes) when applied to individuals are extremely illiberal.

      Wow, this blows my mind. Speech codes and gun control you've got somewhat of a point there. But non-discrimination laws are there in order to ensure that liberty is available to everybody on a more or less equal basis. Society involves making sacrifices in non-essential liberty in order to have a better life.

      And high taxes is just what conservatives say when the liberals propose actually taxing to cover the cost of government. It might be tax and spend liberal, but the status quo since Regan was borrow a

  • Previous specialized search engines including Cuil, Hakia, Powerset, Clusty, and RedZ--each had a special trick, but they've all faded from memory

    Indeed; I don't remember any of them existing.
    • Irrelevant. They were crap. I remember people saying "why would we need Google when we've got Ask Jeeves?" Google isn't even adorable character based!
    • by Nadaka ( 224565 )

      I vaguely remember cuil, but I don't remember what made it different except that it had fewer results than the big boys (google, yahoo, everyone else really).

  • - when all the US sites are classified /rightwing or /reallygoddamnrightwing by the rest of the world? Or when all non-US sites are classified /commiepinkotreehugger by legions of Americans?

    Is there a /yeehaw tag?

  • I'd love to have a search engine that "biases" the results away from spam, and preferably shows only things I'm looking for. No more sifting through many pages to find the tidbit I'm searching for.

    I guess an unbiased search engine is basically choosing a random set of web pages.

  • I would certainly prefer to get "slants" as well as scientific informational results in searches. It's interesting that there doesn't appear to be much of a "centerist" view any longer. I think this is largely due to certain extremes branding centerists as opposing extremists rather than what they are. Still, filtering out even more crap might be interesting.

    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

      I think this is largely due to certain extremes branding centerists as opposing extremists rather than what they are.

      If you are not for us you are against us!

  • ... my first search will be "kennedy assassination /truth". Followed by "mp3 music /goodtaste"
  • Clusty hasn't completely faded from memory. I still use it all the time at - I still find the search clusters very handy for quickly focusing my searches to get to the useful stuff.

  • by vlm ( 69642 )

    I know there's an election tomorrow (we get to select which side of the same corporate purchased coin we want, yay for us) but I think the killer app for this isn't "right" "left" or "liberal" "conservative" but more for Pr0n, like "blondes" "redheads" and uh, many other not safe for work tags, you get the idea.

  • Can I do searches slanted for voltage bias, bias tape, or Bias the brother of Melampus?
  • no results found

  • by metamatic ( 202216 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @11:37AM (#34089890) Homepage Journal

    politics /retarded []:

    You do not have a slashtag called /retarded. Do you want to try:

    politics /politicalblogs
    politics /conservative


  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday November 01, 2010 @11:38AM (#34089894)

    More confirmation bias.

  • The very first, rather arcane search and <poof!> I find something that I had thought must have fallen off the web because I couldn't get there the last time I googled it.

    Go Blekko! ...ank

  • There's Wikipedia then there's Conservapedia. The former has hourly bunfights about bias which results in many bias free articles, but also some spectacularly biased articles on both the left and the right, while the latter insists only on a right slant.

    I will leave it as an exercise to the reader whether a biased (left or right) search engine is any good.

    BMO - Obviously using a biased commie liberal Canadian spell-check, because Wikipedia doesn't get a squiggly underline but Conservapedia does.

  • All I want is for search engines to accept single quotes, and not, in any way, shape, or form, interpret the contents. For example, I have an artist friend who I lost touch with, and can't search, since she spells her name Mel. White, and yes, that's a period after the "l".

    Any number of other searches I've done, I've had similar problems.

    The other thing I'd like is proximity - "these words within 3/5/whatever words of each other", so I don't have to do three, or six, or 12 searches for just one statement th

  • This is cynical enough to sound like material cribbed from the Onion, or possibly Stephen Colbert. :P

    But spot-on. When it comes to politics, people don't want to be informed, they want to be agreed with.

  • Liberal /conservative = Democrats buying votes with Republican money seized at police gunpoint (taxes)
    Conservative /liberal = Republicans attempting to repeal the First Amendment to be replaced by Leviticus 18

    Me /you = idiot
    You /me = idiot

    Moderation /slashdot = Insightful if I agree, flamebait if I don't
    Slashdot /moderation = Selection bias case study

    Darok /Jalad = Tanagra

  • and I don't care if you like it because I have my fingers in my ear and I'm humming...
  • This article manages to completely miss the major reason you might want to use Blekko. As a logged-in user you can personally tag a site as spam, and you'll _never_ see it again in any search you do. A large body of users, tagging as spam, produces a nice database of statistics that can be used to drive the _global_ spam tag. It already does a pretty good job pulling spam out of your search results, and if it really takes off they're going to be delivering pretty high quality.

    Blekko doesn't make any money f

  • What's up with the red-colored links ? I do my first ever search on Blekko, and it looks like I've already visited all the pages...

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