Is building an Australian blog search engine (or index) like building a better mousetrap?

Gnoos

Is blogging a patriotic sport? Do you blog for your countrymen? Do you hunt down your countryman’s blogs? Are other countries experiencing a small explosion of search engines and indexes that help them find blogs of their country in the same way that we are here in Australia?

I don’t know… it all just seems a little strange and redundant to me… (sorry Ben!)

I guess I think of myself as an Australian blogger… (although, that’s going to get a bit more complex in the next few weeks). I don’t think of my blog as an Australian blog though.

I’ve enjoyed some of the blogs I’ve happened upon via Gnoos (still in beta I believe) and the newly launched News 2.0 … but I feel no compulsion to re-visit them frequently, in the same way that I do Technorati, and, of course, Google.

When I’m looking for a blog, most of the time it’s because I’m looking for a topic, a subject. I’m looking to see what others are saying. I’m very rarely interested in where the writers are located. If the topic I’m searching on has an Australian flavour, I assume that my search will turn up Australian writers naturally. And by and large that’s worked quite well.

What I find when I visit sites like Gnoos and News 2.0 are lots of Australian sites on topics that I’m not *really* interested in. It’s nice for a visit to find that people are writing about the current series of Big Brother or a restaurant they went to on the weekend. These aren’t sites I’m likely to subscribe to though.

There’s something about these sites that makes me feel as though they’re quietly waiting for News or Fairfax to buy them out… Other than that, I just don’t see the point.

Not that I think we should completely write off either of these sites (or the other Australian Blog related sites). They both add something interesting to the land of blog.

Jon Yau of News 2.0 describes his service this way:

I hope people would use it as a sacrificial news aggregator – ie. allowing them to check out Australian blogs before subscribing to the ones they like. I’ve added a tagcloud to help determine ‘What is the Australian blogosphere talking about TODAY?’

I like the idea of this – and I don’t think that anyone has quite got that idea to work properly yet. Case in point – on News 2.0 this very moment some of the highlighted tags include; utilitarianism, squirrel, stakeholders, norms, leviticus, graham.

This is what the Australian blogosphere is talking about today? You bunch of weirdos! (disclaimer: I deliberately left out a whole bunch of much more predictable tags for the purpose of illustrating the point). Which of you Australian bloggers were blogging about Leviticus? Come on. Own up. And who’s blogging about Graham? :)

Yes, of course. It’s sample size, and Jon also says that his site is still just in working prototype mode… but the problem is always going to be sample size.

Over on Gnoos, they’re tracking the hot searches in Australian blogging. Currently the number one search is “Gnoos“. Now, that’s odd… you get to Gnoos and then search for the site that you’re already on? Could be some beta testing and bug squashing and algorithmic refining (then more testing) is skewing the results. It doesn’t get much better though with Big Brother and AFL also featuring in the top five.

See… you wonder why I use Technorati. Their top tags this hour include blog-tools, web 2.0, wordpress, SEO and, of course, sex.
But, enough of that, and more of what is interesting. The search results interface for Gnoos. (You can only see this if you have a beta invite, but I’m sure if you email the guys they’ll happily let you in to play!).

There are a few interesting things about the Gnoos search results… It’s bit of a mix of a search engine, Digg, and an RSS Reader. See, once you have your search results – you really don’t need to go to the blog at all (except if you wanted to subscribe to it, I guess. Or comment *on* the blog.) The search results have a bunch of inbuilt features including:

  • comments: this is a digg-like feature. I can see it’s place on Digg, where people can debate whether or not a post is digg-worthy perhaps, but wouldn’t it be more productive for everyone to go comment on the blog post?!;
  • ranking: you can vote a post up or down… not sure exactly how this works or how it will work in the future. Presumably the search algorithm is based on relevance and timeliness… is there some ‘ranking’ factor built in there as well or are there other plans for aggregating popularly voted posts?;
  • tags: you, and others, can tag posts. You can see how others have tagged posts (not that there’s a lot of tagging action going on there). Again, not sure how this comes out at the other end, presumably it’s also integrated into how the posts are searched. Although I think it’s a kind of cute idea, it seems kind of odd at the same time. Like the search engine needs me to tell it how to find this post. Potential for exploiting this functionality could also be interesting…
  • read the post in the search engine (the more button): here’s the one that I think is probably most interested in. Click on the More button and you don’t get taken to the blog post in question, the page slides open to reveal the blog post, IN the search engine. If you’re compulsive about your blog stats or are feeding your kids with your Adsense revenue, you’d better hope this doesn’t take off… the incentive for people to actually hit your blog is rapidly diminishing. It kind of takes RSS to a whole new level.

Personally I’m not too fussed about this. I was never planning to make a motza via advertising on my blog and I suspect that a significant proportion of people read my posts via RSS already. If this keeps up I’ll never have to worry about finally re-designing my blog ;) It also seems like a natural way for content to be used… to be independent and freely available, and re-usable where ever it is wanted.

At the same time… when I submitted my blog to Gnoos, I didn’t know they were going to do this. When I first saw it, I was torn between thinking it was cool and feeling like they’d ripped me off.

I’m still kind of vexed, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

So, don’t let it be said that these new entrants to the blog searching world are insignificant. They’re not at all.

I’m just not sure what they’re doing, and whether I ever really need to search for Australian blogs.

But you tell me:

Am I being unAustralian? Have I completely missed the point? Is this going on in Spain as well?

image credit: FrankArr @ Flickr

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my bestblogforward (how blogposts become popular)

BestBlogForward

I mentioned before Kevin Lim’s BestBlogForward meme. Here’s my contribution :)

Judging by visits and comments, there are probably three blog posts that stand out as ‘most popular’ from this blog. They are:

Based on my experience with these posts… here’s what I’ve learned about how blog posts get popular. (Note: that’s very different to ‘how to write popular blog posts’. I’m not the person to write that post, I don’t think.)

  1. If you’re a mid-to-low alphabet lister like myself… you need the network to make anything you write widely read (or viewed, at least). In each of these cases, I’m indebted to at least one blogger much more popular than myself to get eyeballs on these posts. Once one of these ‘popular’ bloggers links to you, then it becomes a bit of a snowball effect (or a meme, I guess… hence TechMeme). Interestingly, I’ve had posts on TechMeme a few times now and get virtually no traffic as a result. Bloggers who I really have to thank include Scrivs at 9 Rules, Kathy Sierra, Ben Barren, Anne Zelenka.
  2. If your blog title has a number in it, then it is more likely to be popular. No matter what people say about blogposts that are lists (and it’s often not good), there’s something about a number that sounds authoritative and that people can’t seem to resist reading and linking to. As I discovered, it doesn’t even matter if the number you choose is different to the actual number of species (my six species was actually seven, but hardly anyone mentioned that – thank goodness!). I don’t want to recommend overdoing the ‘number’ posts though… I haven’t done one before or since the six species… I should probably think up another one though :)
  3. Some conversations never die and seem to be eternally popular. In my case, my brushes with the “Ugly Design debate” and the “Where are the Women Bloggers” debate were a lot more high impact than I’d expected. At the time of writing, I wasn’t really aware that these discussions had been going on in the blogosphere for years already, and since I’ve written them I’ve seen them bubble up from time to time.
  4. There is no relationship between the length of your blog title and it’s popularity.

What were the stories behind these posts? Well, I can honestly say that none of them were written with ‘traffic’ in mind. Each of them came from conversations I was having online and offline (Six Species, Women of 2.0), things that were bugging me at the time (Design is a good idea), or someone writing a blog post that consolidated some of my thoughts in a new way and inspired me to post my interpretation of what they were saying (User Experience & Cognitive Pleasure).

Based on my experience with TechMeme, I’d say that if you want to be ‘popular’, it’s probably not that difficult. Write about what everyone else is writing about as soon as you possibly can, and – with bit of strategic promotion and A-Lister flattery – get drawn into the linking maelstrom.

Is this what you want your blog to be though? For me, absolutely no. Occasionally there’s something ‘topical’ that I think is exciting or interesting or annoying, and that is relevant to the work that I do (or my life I guess). A lot of the time, the topics that the blogosphere carries on with are repetitive, reactive, and irrelevant to what I’m interested in.

For me, I’d much rather have a small band of people who read my blog reasonably regularly, and who find what I write to be somewhat thought provoking – either to help them think about something in a new way, or to introduce them to something that they might not have seen before. I’m much more interested in people reading and interacting in a conversation than I am in having thousands of anonymous visitors drop in for a moment, then drop out. (On a slight tangent, that’s why I don’t have Adsense or any other advertising on my blog).

So, popular blogposts. I like it when I have a post that’s popular because I get to ‘meet’ new people who find my blog that way… but I don’t write for popularity or traffic.

I’d encourage *everyone* to write for reasons other than popularity. But that’s just me.

If you *really* want to learn about popularity (and making money from your blog), go see Darren Rowse. (and ponder on the fact that 73%* of his readers are male… more on that later perhaps)

* based on results of poll at time of writing. Results were even more skewed towards men last time I checked so perhaps women bloggers just have better things to do on the weekend!)

Image credit: Borrowed from Kevin

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the blog searchengine experiment (tag=actnow)

so, i’m having a bit of a play around with some of the new and not so new blog search engine offerings. There are lots of ways to compare them, but I’m just going to start with one. How long does it take before a blog post is indexed and searchable.

I’m going to test it with the ActNow post I wrote earlier today (mostly because I want to see if other people are blogging about it – come on, you know you want to).

I’ve just run my first test at 11.30pm on Wednesday night (eh, I sooo should be in bed). Here are the results:

Technorati - [updated 1.30pm 11 May 2006] not found – ok, now this is weird. Earlier, my post was found. Now, it seems to have gone missing in action. Bizzaro. Stay tuned for more. Previously, found (11.30pm 10 May 2006), plus about 5 other posts that reference actnow.com.au. Last check 7.06am 11 May 2006 – no change.

Sphere - not found (first check: 11.30pm 10 May 2006). They still doesn’t know I exist. They have Grant’s post though. And only that. (Interesting, they don’t know Trevor Cook exists either… I’m less with the miffed now). Last check 7.06am 11 May 2006 1.30pm 11 May 2006

Gnoos (beta) – [updated] found (7.06am 11 May 2006). Looks like the post was indexed overnight. Annoyingly, it is putting Planet HCI’s link to my site above the actual site link, but that’s not a major drama. (previously:11.30pm 10 May 2006 not found. Now Gnoos does know I exist… the post just hasn’t hit the index yet. Gnoos found Trevor’s post though. That’s all.)

The Australian Indexfound, with one other (Trevor’s)

Feedtagger - nothing found. Annoyingly (in this case) I had to choose a location before I could put in a tag to search… it didn’t come back with anything. (Not even a message to say it couldn’t find anything). Last check 7.06am 11 May 2006 1.30pm 11 May 2006.

AustralianBlogsnothing found. And, what’s with the search results page? I thought I’d hit a wrong button and gone off to another site or something… how about you re-skin that page so that it’s less red and more AustralianBlogs? Last check 7.06am 11 May 2006 (search was VERY slow at this time)1.30pm 11 May 2006

Ansearch - not found. wow! I’m impressed with these search results. Ansearch has found pages that I’m not sure it was even meant to find! There’s not a blog amongst them though. Last check 7.06am 11 May 2006 1.30pm 11 May 2006

OK. I’ll try to update first thing in the morning. I have an early flight to Canberra though and probably not able to get online much throughout the day.

Not sure if I’ll be able to check again throughout the day. Actually, I’m not really expecting a significant change in results within the next 24hrs (although, I could easily be wrong).

Feel free to update in the comments if you have a moment and the inclination. It’s a good way to check out each of the sites.

Frustrations of a Z-Lister (on the MS Live/Firefox debate)

ok. it’s petty, i know. And I’m sure it happens to all of us. But it *is* annoying when you start a conversation about something that bothers you (like how MS Live services don’t support Firefox), and then three months later Scoble blogs about it (in response to Darren Barefoot), and suddenly it’s big news.

I know, I know. That’s how it works when 15 million people read his blog and not so many read mine (btw thanks for reading mine, I appreciate each and every one of you… now, Scoble couldn’t say that!)

Maybe one day, when Sphere finally decides to index my blog, things might change ;)

< /rant>

It was interesting to re-read my rant on the Live Mail beta. I checked back into Hotmail/Live Mail today for the first time in ages, and you can now reply (previously, as reported, Microsoft didn’t think replying was critical functionality for email – if you’re a Firefox user, that is). I’m sure I read somewhere earlier this week about Microsoft reducing the amount of advertising they included on their Live services… that doesn’t seem to be true, yet. It would certainly make for an improvement to the user experience.