May 29, 2009

Google's Blogger Challenge: Win the Marathon and Don't Bonk.

Sometimes I feel like I am a rarity in the tech blogging world, considering I haven't moved away from the Blogger platform and onto the more frequently celebrated, higher geek cred option, WordPress. In fact, I'm such an oddity that I am not even on the newest version of Blogger. I still cling to the "Old" Blogger and post my stories using FTP, as it's something that has worked for me for the better part of three and a half years. But while I haven't made the switch, many have - falling in love with WordPress' wide array of extensions and open source mentality. I've even had offers for people to help me move off Blogger to WordPress, and have, so far, resisted.

With this going on, there's no question Google's Blogger platform has a perception problem. While it is on record as the largest blogging platform on the Web today, ahead of Six Apart's TypePad, LiveJournal and WordPress, it is largely seen as not leading the innovation curve - even if mommybloggers (like my wife) use it and love it.

Some aspects of Blogger feel like they haven't changed in maybe five years, and surprisingly, that perception is actually true. Today I had lunch at Google Headquarters with Rick Klau, who is a Product Manager on the Blogger team at Google, and we talked at length about the current state of the platform, as well as what is planned in upcoming releases to help the product become even more on par, and in some cases, ahead of the competition. He said that for the most part, Google has just "kept the product alive" in maintenance mode, not adding too many features. Meanwhile a good number of the features being tested in the product's "Draft" area, similar to Google Labs, are unknown to the majority of the product's users.

But even in keeping the product going, there's been a tremendous amount of effort from people Rick said were "working their butts off". He wrote me in an e-mail after our lunch, saying, "There's been a ton of largely invisible innovation over the last few years - things that don't get seen because they just work, but enable the massive scale at which Blogger operates."

Klau joined Google as part of the company's acquisition of FeedBurner in mid 2007, and since that purchase, neither FeedBurner nor Blogger have been spared the arrows from critics who recognize the value of their services, but expect more, myself included. Klau agreed with my comments this afternoon saying that users see Google as having the combination of tremendous brain power and seemingly infinite technical infrastructure resources, making any hiccups practically inexcusable. I've always said I favor the little guy over a large monolith like Google, and users are easily tweaked when products produce incorrect results or have outages that last hours - both of which I've highlighted before in darker days.

But Klau also noted the platform is under a constant around-the-clock battle with spammers and other hackers attempting distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks and working to find ways to blast spam into comments on the millions of blogs on the Blogger platform worldwide. In fact, the Blogger team has three people in three continents around the world dedicated to keeping the sites up and the riffraff out.

To fully appreciate life as a Blogger user, Klau did the opposite of what many have done of late, moving from WordPress to the Blogger platform with his own blog. He now gets the privilege to see both the good and the bad of his product from the perspective of the company's large user base - and despite the competitive state, he sounded eager at what the future will bring, and the opportunities available, with top resources available from the Mountain View search giant, including potential integration with newly announced products elsewhere within the company.

"I feel like we're in a marathon, and I am beginning with a 10 mile headstart," Klau said. And while it may have been true that in recent years, Blogger had been sitting idly, or jogging in place to hold their position, it is clearly no longer the case now, as I learned during my talk with Klau today. The team is running again.

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