Blekko’s new social content curation site ROCKZi turns search inside out

For Google(s GOOG) and Bing(s MSFT), social search has meant layering social features on top of their search engines. But blekko, the human-curated search engine, seems to be taking somewhat of an opposite approach.
The Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company (which markets itself as “spam free search”) today unveiled an entirely new content curation site, ROCKzi, which lets people consume and socialize around the news they care about in a visually-appealing environment.
“It’s Pinterest meets Flipboard,” said blekko co-founder and VP of marketing Mike Markson. “It’s real-time content that we present for a variety of topics, that we put into this fun format for users to interact with, by voting, commenting, submitting and sharing.”
Google’s first foray into social search was t0 highlight content created by friends at the bottom of a user’s search results and, later, it added the +1 button. Bing’s attempt to socialize search has been to add a Facebook(s FB)-powered sidebar. But Markson said they wanted to take an entirely different approach.
“We wanted to create a social environment that lets us leverage our search assets and create a cool, compelling environment,” he said. “We turned the search engine inside out.”
Blekko, which lets people find filtered, in-context search results by using “slashtags,” appeals to power users (like librarians), Markson said. But, taking a cue from from other popular curation sites, ROCKzi was built to bring curation to a wider set of users through low-touch, passive curation tools.
The site surfaces fresh content from news sources curated by power blekko users and displays articles in topic-specific, searchable “news boards,” from “Geekery” and “Glitterati” to “SportZ” and “Red State.” As of now, there are 33 boards but, over the next few weeks and months, it plans to expand to hundreds and then thousands more.
As users consume the content, they can vote for it, share it on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, comment on it or add it to their personal feed with a “This RockZ” button. They can also submit new content to news boards (and eventually add news boards to the platform). With each action, users accrue “karma points,” which Markson said could eventually inform a leaderboard that ranks users in different topics. Down the road, as people search for content through blekko or ROCKzi, they could see content submitted or liked by friends whose karma points indicate that they’re experts in certain areas.
In beta tests of the site, Markson said users spent an average of 25 minutes on the site during each session. And I have to agree that the site feels pretty sticky. It offers something like a Flipboard experience, but one that’s more searchable and more comprehensive. At the same time, however, on the Web at least, it offers a lot of content to take in at once. (Markson said there’s a mobile-optimized version and that apps are on their way.) Also, people already have so many ways to consume the news (from traditional RSS feeds to Flipboard, Zite and others), it will be interesting to see if people gravitate to this new platform.
In May, blekko, which has raised more than $50 million, said it recorded 5.5 million unique visitors who made more than 110 million searches.