January 03, 2009

Blog Search May Suck, But What Do We Really Want?

By Rob Diana of Regular Geek (Twitter/FriendFeed)

In the past few weeks, the 'blog search engines are bad' complaint has resurfaced. This seems to reappear every few months, and for good reason. Blog search is not really changing. I complained a few months ago that blog search was broken and a month later reiterated my feelings when Technorati went down and nobody cared.

This time, Steve Rubel complains that blog search is in a pitiful state. His lament seems to be that the blog search engines are not returning real links to his blog posts. I could be wrong in my summary, but this is the real point of trackbacks, which most blog platforms still support, I thought. I am not saying that I disagree with Steve, I do believe that blog search is in terrible shape. Mark Evans questions whether blog search is just too hard a problem:
Maybe the blogosphere is simply too difficult to track given it changes so quickly and there’s so much to spider. Or maybe Google believes there are bigger opportunities elsewhere.
Mark even asked for a better blog search (and a few other things) from Google for Christmas. Part of the problem that people are mentioning is that Technorati and Google Blog Search are returning links from blog rolls and not just links from within posts. Google Blog Search is actually asking for help if you see this problem.

However, I think the conversation regarding "finding links" is missing something. What do we really want in blog searching? Are we only searching for links to our posts? Are we searching for blogs that are talking about a specific topic? Are we just searching for new blogs to read? Are we really just trying to find out where our blog ranks, like Technorati's authority?

Part of the problem is that we are focusing on one issue with blog search. Basic link searching will probably always suck because of the problem with spam blogs. They will add links to some sites and detract from others. Spam is just a hard problem to fight, so we probably will have to live with some of those problems. The other questions are much more interesting, but I am not sure that people really want those types of features. Do we want to use something like Technorati to find new blogs? Or are we now using FriendFeed and Google Reader shared items to find new things?

My thinking is that beyond Technorati Authority, people have left blog search behind. Because of this, blog search is not going to be seeing innovation by itself. If you look at Compete and compare traffic of Technorati, Google Blog Search, IceRocket and BlogPulse, you will see that the combined traffic has decreased over the past year. My estimates put the decline in traffic from Technorati and Google Blog Search at 30%. Obviously, there is little traffic or revenue to be had. As you can see, there is no real reason for anyone to try to compete with Technorati. It would be a competition for a dying space.

If you are trying to find who is talking about your post, blog links are only a small part anymore. Social media has changed where the conversation is occurring. The conversation is still happening on other blogs and in the blog comments, but there are other sites included as well. Social news sites like Digg, Mixx and Reddit have comments from various people. Other social media sites like Twitter and FriendFeed also promote comments on their sites. It is time to stop complaining about blog search. It is time to start looking at the bigger picture, find the conversations and join them.

Read more by Rob Diana at RegularGeek.com.