Rich Skrenta and Praying for Spam

Remarkably absent from all the coverage of blekko founder Rich Skrenta, his spam clock, and his anti-spam crusade is any discussion about how Rich telegraphed this play four years ago.

Rich Skrenta
Rich Skrenta

He concluded that there was no opportunity for an SEO model:

“I’m thinking SEO has gotta be dead as a startup business model.”

Rich Skrenta, Some Thoughts on Mahalo, August 20, 2007

and that no other business model would work for most web sites

“companies will succeed by working within the framework of Google’s industry dominance”

Rich Skrenta, Winner Take All and Google, January 1, 2007


“We know this from experience: No one will ever go to Mahalo directly, just as no one ever went to, dmoz, Tripadvisor, Nextag, IMDB or any other vertical or broad-but-shallow site. Google is where everyone starts

Rich Skrenta, Some Thoughts on Mahalo, August 20, 2007

He noticed that the real money was in being a search engine

“It turns out that owning the starting point on the Internet is really, really valuable.

Not just because it gets a lot of traffic. It’s because that traffic is so much more valuable than the rest of the page views bouncing around the net. Google’s CPMs are $90-120, vs. $4-5 for an average browse page view elsewhere.”

Rich Skrenta, Winner Take All and Google, January 1, 2007

and that there would be an opportunity for startups in this space

“I believe Google is a fantastic company … But to bet against the search startup space is equivalent to betting that Google is going to bat 1000. And nobody ever bats 1000.”

Rich Skrenta, Search Isn’t Over, January 19, 2007

And finally, he determined the best positioning for a search competitor: claim that Google was being overrun by spam and that you had the solution:

“Spam created the market opportunity for Google, when Altavista succumbed in 97-98. Search startups should be praying to the spam gods for a second opportunity. :-)”

Rich Skrenta, 98% Spam, February 6, 2007

Ah, the wonder of the internet. An entrepreneur articulates his thought process on his blog, and you can sort of watch how the light bulb went on his head.

So, we rejoin our hero in 2011. How’s blekko doing?

“The last announcement we put out said we’re over 1 million queries per day.”

Matt Rosoff interviews Rich Skrenta, Google’s Garbage Search Results Are Not Going Away — Blekko CEO, March 25, 2011

The editor of that piece wrote “by way of comparison, Google gets more than 1 billion.” Well, a tenth of a percent of Google’s traffic is not a bad place for a search engine startup to be.

Are Skrenta’s dire warnings about the spam problem correct? I don’t think so. In their famous 1998 paper the Google founders complained that junk results had become a problem since “people are still only willing to look at the first few tens of results.” Imagine that, the success metric was finding a relevant result within the first few tens of results. Now we get annoyed if we have to scan the entire above the fold region.

Few people understand the internet industry as well as Rich Skrenta. But using him as a source for questions about Google being overrun by spam is like relying on oil companies’ analyses of alternative fuel. Skrenta is smart. But he may be praying to the spam gods.