free html hit counter December 2003 - Page 8 of 8 - John Battelle's Search Blog

On RSS, Blogs, and Search

By - December 01, 2003

I’ve been thinking lately about the role of blogs and RSS in search, and that, of course, has led me to both the Semantic Web and to Technorati, Feedster, and many others. Along those lines, I recently finished a column for 2.0 on blogs and business information. I can’t reveal my conclusions yet (my Editor’d kill me) but suffice to say, I find the intersection of blogging, search, and the business information market to be pretty darn interesting.
I’m certainly not alone. Moreover has created “Enterprise-Grade Weblog Search” – essentially, a zietgiest mining tool for corporations. One can imagine similar products from any of the RSS search engines, or even from the major marketing agencies of the world. On the other end of the spectrum (making blogs easier to read for consumers, as opposed to easier to mine for product marketers), Meg Hourihan is fast at work on Kinja, which is going to be a blog of blogs that will make finding and following blogs easier. Bloglines is doing similar work.
What makes this interesting from the perspective of search is the structured nature of what is being searched – blog postings and news articles, for the most part (or maybe I should say the data is “vaguely structured” – a term in a paper I just read – more on that later). Anyway, I sense a pretty potent market shaping up. Anyone know of other folks, companies, or news I should know about?

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A Dance, Or A Hurricane?

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For those of you who don’t follow the vagaries of search engine index updates, the past few weeks may have been pretty uneventful. But for the businesses and marketers who make their living by ranking well in Google’s listings, it’s been a pretty tumultuous month. That’s because once again the Google Dance has swept through the search engine markets, and this last one was unique.

“Google Dance” refers to the process by which Google updates its index – the master code that determines which listings you see as a result of your queries. Because it is a massive index, and because Google often wants or needs to incorporate various tweaks and refinements to its site-ranking secret sauce (in particular to fight spam), it can take days or even weeks for a new index to settle across the web. The folks over at WebmasterWorld track this stuff quite closely, and have taken to naming each update alphabetically, following the nomenclature usually reserved for hurricanes. This past one happens to be F, and has been dubbed (dub-ya’d?) Florida.

When the Google index dances, many sites which once enjoyed top listings can fall off the first page of results, for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Danny Sullivan has written extensively about this, (including today’s newsletter) as have many others. What makes this most recent update fascinating is that for the first time, Google watchers have figured out a somewhat consistent way to track what’s changed since the last update, and many of them are crying foul. They’re claiming that Google has tweaked its algorithms to favor terms which have commercial value, and to prove it, they’ve hacked up “Scroogle,” a tool that shows the before and after results for any given query. Danny’s given an interesting example in his article of what happens to the query “laptop rentals” in a before and after test.

While a case might be made, I can’t imagine Google is favoring its own commercial interests over its stated philosophy of focus on search, the profits will follow. It’d be suicide for a company that’s made its name on “not being evil.” The uproar over the Florida update, however, points to the increasing responsibility the company bears as a holder of public trust. Updates like Florida have major implications for an entire economy of Google-dependent merchants, and the two parties (Google and the merchants who depend on its listings) are only growing more interdependent. A dance, indeed.

All the braying about Florida aside, it’s interesting to note what you get when you search for “laptop rentals” on MSN. At least MSN is consistent – whoever pays MSN the most, you see first!