The Near-Death of Blog Search

by Doc Searls

The first blog search engine was PubSub in 2002. It was inventive and strange in some ways (and took some getting used to); but it was fast and did a good job of searching through syndicated postings, mostly from blogs — at least until blog spam became an epidemic that nearly killed the whole category a couple years later.

Second was Bloglines, which came along in early 2003 and was a Web-based RSS news aggregator, more than a search engine. But I include them in this list because operative word there was (and still is) news. Although news is about the new, it has always at least aspired to old school big-J Journalism, which means it expects to be archived, no matter how much of the medium itself ends up in recycling bins, landfills and doctors' office waiting rooms. With published (rather than broadcast) news, there is is an assumption of flow between curated forms. It comes from writers or editor, out through publishers, into the hands of readers, and then back into curation after the first readers are done with it.

Curation by archiving is essential if the work is to have durable value, which requires making it available to future readers. So, even if, in the case of blogs, the curatorial function up front is brief and non-institutional (the writer is the editor and the publisher), every post went up on a website with a "permalink." Meaning it could always be found there.

Third was Technorati, in late 2003. The first to openly proclaim being a blog search engine, Technorati was for awhile the big fish in a small blog search pond. Over the next several years, other fish came to include Google Blogsearch, Blogpulse, Yahoo, Feedster, IceRocket and Blog Digger. Here's Dave Johnson's comparison of the set in 2006.

Since then Feedster and Blog Digger have died off. Yahoo was never serious about it. IceRocket and Blogpulse were both sold and are now mostly buzz search engines that don't remember anything more than a few months old. Blog Digger's page is still up but doesn't do anything. And Technorati, which once maintained a complete index of all syndicated sources, including all blogs from the beginning of its existence, turned into one of those "content" mills a few years back.

The only true blog search engine still standing is Google Blogsearch, which is basically a specialized search in Google's Big Engine. I hope they keep it going, because it's an essential resource for finding the kind of news that's syndicated live, still curates itself, and isn't just about pushing or riding whatever happens to be buzzing at the moment.

I discovered what had happened to the rest of blog search when I went to look for a post of mine from last April titled I began this post because I wanted to find my post "A sense of bewronging", IceRocket and Blogpulse only find more recent posts that refer back to the original. A search for "bewronging" on IceRocket, I found, produces three results: A Week of Tweets; 24-30 April 2011, by Tom Graves; Mind The Gap: You Are As You Are Eaten, by Cliff Gerrish; and Real Names, by Digital ID Coach (Judi Clark). Clearly there's a time cut-off here. IceRocket has decided that old stuff isn't worth indexing. Now owned by Meltwater Buzz, it's about "social media monitoring" that "helps you mine conversations across social channels for nuggets of insight". Note that the second person "you" is not you and me, the users. We're the producers of ore from which insight nuggets are mined. The "you" they're talking to is advertisers.

This is what Twitter hath wrought. And Facebook to a lesser extent. They've buried real news — stuff worth keeping around — under a mountain of buzz, all of which melts away after minutes, weeks or, at the most, months.

But the durable stuff still matters. Journalism, compromised and corrupted as it has become, still matters. Perhaps more than ever. And that means journals like this one, and the long-form voices of bloggers, still matter too. But only to the degree that the work can still be found.

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