Leadership is the one competency that cannot be learnt in management school. A manager is trained to do things right; a leader does the right things. It is not a matter of training and preparation, but one of instinct and conscience.

The Accidental Apprentice by Vikas Swarup

Blippex – Crowdsourcing Search


Competition in the Search Engine field has been quite stale ever since Google took over the scene. Some prototypes have cropped up here and there, some even attempted by ex-Googlers, but most of them faded into oblivion as quickly as they appeared. Competing with Google is hard. Very hard. No other general search engine can display a few results with the relevance and speed of the big G at an international level. Nor can they so neatly mash up different types of content and data depending on the query. Bing, Blekko and DuckDuckGo are some of the runners-up still in the game, especially for the English-speaking world. (Google still is the undisputed international superstar.)

Blekko does some interesting result clustering into topics, although it comes at the cost of speed. DDG offers results frequently on par with Google, while providing a less cluttered and more private experience. It is dependent on other search engines and sources, but it does a great job of mashing up information from these diferent sources, providing quick answers to some questions. While Google develops everything internally or straight-up buys other companies’ technology, DDG relies on partnerships with other interesting services such as Wolfram-Alpha to become a little smarter. My only gripe with DDG is that their stance is pretty much anti-Google but not anti-Bing, which doesn’t make much sense. Otherwise I love what their data partnerships and quick answer box can do:

CSS color lookup in DDG: #ccc is... a shade of gray!
CSS color lookup in DDG: #ccc is… a shade of gray!

What none of these search engines did was to rewrite the whole concept of web search. They all pretty much play by the book. The only truly innovative engines after Google were the visual ones. As of 2013 there appears to be only one worthwhile visual search engine: Oolone. I feel tempted to give it a go. But besides a different way of presenting results, few people have been successful at coming up with an alternative way to retrieve and rank the results. In other words, PageRank is still king.

Oolone: visual search
Oolone: visual search

Today, a new kind of web search came to my attention. The guys at Blippex had the idea of getting results solely based on which webpages people visit and how long their visits last. They don’t care about crawling the web through links. Naturally, it’s an idea with a big obstacle: getting traction is very, very hard. In the beginning, Blippex didn’t have a single site in their index! Blippex grows along with its user base: the more people use it, the more webpages it will get to know and rank. To this end, their browser extension helps them gather webpages and dwell times. Fortunately, they’re also very privacy-aware, making sure they don’t use cookies or store any other data.

Blippex: the new generation of search?

Presently, Blippex it’s still way behind a usable state, missing several sites, but it’s only been online for a few months. Regardless of its ability to grow, I’m very fond of the idea, and for the first time impressed with a new search engine. I wonder what Blippex could accomplish if they strive long enough and perhaps adopted an equally innovative presentation. For that wonder alone, I will contribute to Blippex by using their browser extension. Realistically, though, there’s few chances that Blippex will be able to gather critical mass, and even less chances that it will understand its users’ intentions as well as Google does. For there’s much more to Google than simply Pagerank.

Google will still have the upper hand:

  • They’re years ahead in research and development.
  • They have a huge and talented workforce.
  • They have advanced technology by experts in every field of computing.
  • They have humungous amounts of data to draw from.
  • Probably they can also estimate the time spent on websites, either with their Toolbar or at least by checking if the same user is returning to Google after their first click on a result.
  • They even reasonably survived attempts of manipulation (webspam).

Still, if you’re intrigued by the idea, check out this article at Quartz for the interesting background of Blippex.