Blog Search Market Heats Up

Article ImageHear that sledgehammer-like thud, thud, thud? That's the sound of opportunity knocking in the blogosphere.

So far, the big online search companies such as Yahoo!, MSN, and Google have been slow to answer, which has allowed smaller, more nimble companies like Technorati (the current leader), Daypop, Feedster, and IceRocket to gain a foothold in the market for blog search tools. It is a potential gold mine of a market for big and small companies alike.

"The number and influence of blogs continues to rise," says David Schatsky, SVP of JupiterResearch, who points to a consumer survey conducted recently by his firm that shows that "11% of online consumers read blogs at least monthly, a number that is rising rapidly." Technorati reports that the number of blogs online is doubling every five-and-a-half months. In September Technorati was tracking 17.2 million blogs and 1.5 billion links. During the summer it found that 80,000 new Weblogs were being created daily—that's almost one every second. Similarly, in September Intelliseek's BlogPulse tool was tracking 16.1 million blogs and adding 50,000 new blogs per day.

Despite uncharacteristic lethargy in getting off the starting block, Google finally jumped into this market on September 14, when it announced a dedicated tool called, simply, Blog Search. It appears that Google has actually been sitting on this technology since 2003, when it purchased popular hosting service Blogger.

Smaller companies might be intimidated by competition from new media powerhouse Google, but Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing and customer satisfaction officer for Intelliseek, seemed unfazed. "Google is a major traffic cop; it is a fat pipe. Thanks to Google, the average blog will now get double the traffic. That's great news for bloggers, and that's great news for our business," he says. "This further validates the blog space."

Rumor has it that Yahoo! will be the next big-leaguer to enter the market—any day now, according to the pundits. The company has been testing blog search technology in Korea for the last four years but refuses to talk about marketing plans. "We have nothing to announce at this time," said Kathryn Kelly, Yahoo! Search PR senior manager, in September, just days prior to the Google announcement. "We don't have a U.S. product to talk about, and the Korea product is not relative to the U.S." But Yahoo! has too much to gain from the blogosphere to tarry too long.

"Media companies, search engines, and advertisers cannot afford to ignore this trend," says JupiterResearch's Schatsky, "though how exactly they should proceed is a big question for many of them. For a company like Yahoo!, though, that makes its money largely by providing consumers ready access to content and selling advertising alongside it, it makes sense to provide a blog-searching capability. It can ensure they remain relevant as providers of information to consumers, while increasing targeted advertising opportunities."

One way for a company (big or small) to differentiate its product in this field is by providing search capability that is as close as possible to "real time." True real time is practically impossible, so most companies say their tools are "near real time," which means there typically is an hour or more lag time between when the blogger posts his or her Weblog and when the search tool actually finds it. Real time is difficult to achieve because, Kelly from Yahoo! explains, "what happens is the Web spider/crawler will go out to find the blogs/RSS feeds, and it takes time to go through the entire Web to find them and report back any updates." She notes that her company's "Korean Blog Search" has "a lag time of about an hour, typical of most blog search engines, including Google's."

Real-time search appeals to not only news hounds and stockbrokers but also the bloggers themselves, says Intelliseek's Blackshaw. Real time offers them "instant validation so they can instantly see if their message is on track or not." Instant validation also appeals to marketing and advertising professionals who want to be able to continually monitor their campaigns and instantly adjust them. "You want to be able to manage how quickly your message spreads. Messages travel fast on the Internet," says Blackshaw. "In 24 hours, a nasty blog rumor could kill a company."

Speed isn't everything, insists Natalie Glance, senior research scientist with Intelliseek. "The real challenge for a search tool is data quality," she says. Current blog search tools retrieve too much spam, too much non-blog content, and too many duplicate entries. Glance says that while Intelliseek's BlogPulse has a lag time of about a day, her company's real intent is to "add analytics on top of blogs." That's how they plan to compete against faster tools from the big players as they heed the call of the blogosphere.