January 12, 2010

Technorati, Once Near Death, Focuses On Quality

When Technorati CEO Richard Jalichandra joined the company near the end of 2007, he found the blog search engine in "a lot of trouble". Technorati was bleeding cash, with an expensive infrastructure based on "incredibly complicated technologies", and was losing the war on fighting spammers, who were threatening to render the company's deep index and authority measurements completely useless. In parallel, the struggles came at a time when expanded competition from formidable players, including Google, made staying on top almost impossible, even as the company's formidable task to index the fast-growing live Web expanded.

"Please Put On Your Oxygen Mask First..."

The situation looked dire, one Jalichandra compared to when the oxygen masks fall from a depressurized airplane, saying you can't save the passenger next to you, until you save yourself.

"The first thing I had to make sure of was that we didn't go out of business," Jalichandra said in an interview Monday at the company's San Francisco headquarters. "In the fall of 2007, it all came to a head, and we knew we had to do something or there wouldn't be anything left."

Since 2003, Technorati was among the first leaders of the Web 2.0 wave, recognizing the imminent growth of the live Web, encompassing blogs and other social media activities. Not just comfortable with blog search, Technorati also enabled site owners to claim blogs, track backlinks to their content, measure authority, ranked by unique site backlinks over time, to ping the site with new updates, chart changes in content distribution on the Web, and present Technorati widgets on their blogs. Add on a few fun features, including popular pages, and the always quizzical "Where's the Fire", best known as "WTF?", and Technorati had its focuses widely diversified.

Near Death By a Thousand Cuts...

The 2007 crisis forced the company to revisit everything and make some very painful decisions, cutting costs, headcount and features - many of which had been treasured by the blogosphere.

"(Previous CEO David) Sifry came up withe great idea of boiling the ocean of the live Web and it grew like crazy," Jalichandra said. "But there are a couple of problems with boiling the ocean when people are looking for a cup of coffee."

Technorati, once known as the go-to site for data on the blogosphere, had soon found itself eclipsed by more nimble competitors, such as Google Blog Search, and while many bloggers, including myself, grew frustrated with the site's rapidly killing features we liked, and the not too unfamiliar appearance of site downtime, which would happen multiple times a week, for several hours at a time, the site came incredibly close to going away altogether without drastic change.

"The first six months (of my term as CEO) was all about stabilizing the company," Jalichandra said. "At some point you have to keep the lights on, particularly the kind of company that is venture funded. It has to get revenue, and has to make a profit. We had to write the plan for growth, a two-pronged plan, to grow the site and launch the ad network. We are still dedicated and committed to growing Technorati.com."

One Must Have Revenue to Invest Back In the Company

The company's focus on the advertising network seems like a dramatic change in course for what was instead seen as a technology service company, but it was a move aimed to leverage the existing database in the site, while also driving revenue into the company. It was suggested that, as revenue grew, it could be reinvested back into Technorati's site, quite possibly to start replacing some of the lost or deprecated services much beloved by the blogosphere.

In October of 2009, Technorati revamped its Web site, and while gone were many of the dedicated pages for topics and individual blog posts, which I had liked, in its place was a detailed directory with top blogs ranked by category, with a new ranking of authority, and a higher focus on relevancy. While the old Technorati would highlight the most recent updates as they flowed in, the new Technorati tries to deliver recent updates from the most authoritative sources - a move that's not without its controversy, of course.

"Search is not a democracy," said Jalichandra. "There is always an editorial choice in search. It may be an algorithmic choice, but it's a choice."

Look Mom, No Spam and No Downtime!

The new site relaunch led not just to new content and a new look, but the elimination of downtime, as the company says they have not experienced any appearances of the Technorati Monster having escaped since the introduction, adding it is believed the the issue of spam is practically non-existant. Despite so many headaches and a popular perception that the site is irrelevant or archaic, the company's leadership thinks the two years needed to bring the site back to the point where innovation can occur has been both necessary and worth it.

David White, vice president of publishing, says that working for Technorati has been a "really interesting challenge", but one that has changed as the mainstream is not just aware of blogs, but is embracing the live Web in their daily lives, as Technorati plays less of a role as evangelist for the blogosphere, but instead one that focuses on finding quality content.

"Technorati started by indexing all the blogs," White said. "Our job is different now, and that is to find the quality. Technorati is an important site, and it has made an impact on how we interact with the blogosphere, which has had a huge impact on media as a whole."

Will It Be Enough? Can I Have My Widgets Back Now?

As the move to quality infiltrates the company's blog directory, Technorati promises many of the tools that have gone away are coming back. The company fixed blog claiming last week, and promised Monday to bring back authority over time charts, as well as introducing new widgets, which had long since obsoleted.

Many bloggers, including the visible futurist Stowe Boyd, have already given up on Technorati, after seeing the company's early promise seem to crash and burn, through a confusing product strategy, spam-filled results, poor uptime, and bad news followed by no news. It seems the darkest times are behind them, and the company will have to make good on its promises before many bloggers learn to trust them again. But in my meeting with them Monday, they clearly said they're not done fighting.

To hear Jalichandra in his own words, listen to the 8 minute clip I recorded on Cinch:

No comments:

Post a Comment