There’d been talk of it for a while… might do, could do, should do.
But Google’s finally gone and done it with blogsearch. After being tipped off by John Batelle’s blog, I learned that Google has added a “blog search” feature that lets users search blogger blogs and other blogs as well in near-real-time.
I’ve already spotted reviews of the service’s speed and completeness and related basics… but I’m concerned with something a bit deeper.
At best, I think the new Google Blogsearch tool is moderately interesting and helpful. At worst, however, I think this seriously undermines the ideals of content over form.
I don’t think I’ve come out and said it so bluntly before, but I’ve been meaning to:
No one ever been fired for blogging. People admire Robert Scoble for his communications, not his blog. Washingtonniene got herself in hot water (or a hot book deal, depending on your perspective) due to repeatedly opening her legs in front of influential congresscritters and blabbing about it to lots of people.
I am a writer, a dancer, a community evangelist, a geek, but I’m NOT A BLOGGER.
I happen to use a tool (Movable Type) that structures my writing in reverse chronological order, ads some neato features and frills, and at the end of the day, the output is in the form of and called a blog.
I also use the telephone. Does that make me a telephoner?
I’ve spoken before large groups using a microphone before. Does that make me a microphoner?
The tools doth not make the message… nor the worth of that message. They may enable it, amplify it… but the medium is not the message. I take responsibility and credit for what I communicate — in ANY form — as should others.
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So what’s my point? Is it all semantics? No, no, and no.
Why does the Googlebot and the Google index like blogs? Because they are often refreshed frequently and often have content that people are searching on.
Why are blogs useful to many people? Because they are often refreshed frequently and they often have content that folks want to read.
The distinguishing factor isn’t the structure, it’s the message, or at least the frequency of message output.
But, I hear you arguing, if I’m looking for articles about the beauty of Foo, I’m more apt to find interesting / informative / entertaining stuff in blogs, as opposed to from a general Google search, where I’ll find “Buy Foo here!” and “foo foo more stuff that looks like foo but isn’t!” and “A directory of foos linking to foos that link to more foo directories.”
Ah, spam, glorious spam. But to this I say… the problem is in the message (or lack of relevant message) and/or the funneling and discovery of the message, not the medium that message has been stamped with. And besides, as most folks have ruefully learned lately, there’s a lot of spam in “blogs” or things that are blogs in structure only.
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So what does separating out blogs accomplish?
Highlighting the little guy, the fella who blogs his heart out after he gets home from his day job? Not necessarily. Lots of the most popular blogs are part of blog ’empires’ nowadays, with people literally paid by the entry. Basically news sites. Mega-editorial sites.
Does filtering in/out blogs accentuate opinions? News items? Photos? Likely no moreso than an intelligent, optimized search of the Web on the whole.
Perhaps, some would retort, it provides an easy way for folks to find venues for community online interaction via blog comments. But this is an especially flawed argument; after all, a great many blogs have disabled their comments, and on the flip side, there are tons of forums on the Web that feature robust conversations.
If I add an RSS feed to a Web page or a wiki, does this make it a blog? How about comments?
Or the reverse: what if a “blog” doesn’t have an RSS feed and doesn’t support comments or trackbacks; is it really a blog?
What if it’s essentially a newsletter sponsored by a megacorp (e.g., a McDonald’s “Blog”)? Is that more bloggy than a Web site by Auntie Jo with FrontPage-pasted daily updates?
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Given all this ambiguity and the questionable use of separating out blogs, I believe that Google and other search engines would be better off improving how they interpret searcher intent. So when folks search for “foo facts” or “foo reviews” or “foo opinions” or “buy foo” or “foo sex” they’d get search results relevant to the TYPE of or FOCUS on foo that they were hoping for. Increased personalization will (or at least should) do a ton to improve this as well.
So, too, could Google simply add better tools to more finely filter messages or sites… regardless of whether they’re wikis, forums, blogs, or something else entirely. A “freshness” slider (written or edited recently vs. a long time ago), presence of comments, multiple authors, has RSS/Atom feed, etc.
I fear that Google — and ultimately other search engines that follow in their lead — will have taken the easy way out. Maybe they’re hoping that this’ll at least be a useful stopgap measure until they improve their algorithms and tools enough to filter upon searcher intent… but I’m resigned to the reality that — once initiated — a (perceived)-blog-segregation is unlikely to be undone. And that’s a bummer for bloggers, pseudo-bloggers, and everyone else.