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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10 Responses to “Is building an Australian blog search engine (or index) like building a better mousetrap?”

  1. Ric May 29, 2006 at 11:09 pm #

    I’m with you, Leisa. I don’t read Australian blogs BECAUSE they’re Australian – but because they have stuff that is interesting to me. I actually just checked my blogroll (because it’s not something I’d even thought about before) and I’ve got 6 Australian blogs and one Kiwi there.

    While I’m not in favour of the digital version of a cultural cringe, I am also not going to spend my time reading blogs based on their country of origin. Pushing the “Australian-ness” of blogs like gnoos etc are doing seems almost to manifest a ‘victim’ mentality. The whole point of the Internet is that it is global, trans-national – physical location should mean nothing. Write interesting stuff, and peope all over the place will want to read it.

  2. Szili May 30, 2006 at 1:22 am #

    I had the same point of view, but it lead to my friend living in Paris knowing more about what’s going on in Hungary than I who live here.
    So I made a try with the Hungarian Digg called Linkter.hu, but it didn’t really worked out. You had the point with sample size…
    Anyway, I believe there is sense in location based meta-filtering (and it even would be useful at smaller scales, like cities), but I haven’t found a good solution yet (in Hungary at least).

  3. lelak May 30, 2006 at 6:01 am #

    So perhaps it’s not so much for Australians themselves, as for the rest of the world to get a perspective on the Australian blogosphere in particular?

  4. leisa.reichelt May 30, 2006 at 7:12 am #

    hrm… perhaps. People going to so much effort to that end would suggest a much greater desire for this perspective on the Australian blogosphere than I would have anticipated…

  5. Sarah May 30, 2006 at 8:11 am #

    my interest in Australian blog sites can be compared to a certain extent to interest in local news sites. eg, i think the bbc news site is the best for world news, but i also read the local news sites as they have better coverage of Australia. using a blog aggregator/index i can find things i wouldn’t have thought of searching for, and using an Australian one i might find something that is related to Australia.

    on topic trackers, i’ve found the topic tracker on the Australian index (http://www.theaustralianindex.com) to be quite good. it also has a topic tracker for the past 28 days (http://theaustralianindex.com/?page=stats&stateID=0) and it seems to contain terms you would expect (like beaconsfield, da vinci, the budget, mothers day, world cup) – tho i’ve left out some to illustrate my point :).

  6. Anne May 30, 2006 at 8:41 am #

    Leisa – I’m with you; I don’t care where other bloggers are geographically located, with the exception of finding ones near enough to me that we might meet some day in person. I feel closer to you in terms of ideas and focus than many people who are much closer geographically.

    I had the same sort of experience when i focused on blogs written by women for BlogHer. Just because they were by women didn’t mean they were interesting to me (duh, women are half the population, how could that be enough of a filter?) I still get the point of doing it–maybe it’s similar to the idea of promoting Australian bloggers. it just didn’t work for me.

  7. Andy May 30, 2006 at 5:10 pm #

    Interesting point Leisa, you’ve stirred some good conversation… as for me, I search for blogs in the opposite way you and every commenter thus far does. I look for Aussie blogs before I look for the overseas equivalent, I read my Aussie RSS feeds before anything else and I participate in way more Aussie blog conversations that I do international.

    Perhaps it’s because I have two specifically Australian blogs, but more to the point it’s because local news excites me more. I want to know what’s happening here and now. I’m all about local search, I’m more interested in my own backyard than anyone else’s. I guess I’m the sort of reader gnoos is targetting… to me gnoos is far more valuable than say, technorati or sphere. Also, the networking aspect of blogs has better value for me when it takes place on Aussie soil.

    If local search isn’t happening in other countries now, it will be soon. I strongly feel localisation is the end game for search, especially for social searching.

    Without turning this into a gnoos critique, I often wonder if comments features would be more valuable if the comments left on gnoos (and other sites like digg) were syndicated back to the blog post. I wonder if this is the next step for social search / tagging / bookmarking? That’s my only gripe though. I use gnoos way more than technorati these days.

  8. Craig May 31, 2006 at 5:14 am #

    A while back I had a look at the gnoos beta and left disappointed. While I see it as a valuable tool for searching and researching purely australian content, unless you actually have something specific your looking for, I don’t see it as being much more useful than that as it stands. At least not until I can subscribe to the recently updated local blogs feed. :) I love reading local content, learning what people are discussing in the area around me. One of the great features I use on austrailianblogs.com.au for example is the feed for new blogs added. I click through to those everyday. Most I don’t gel with but the ones I do, I add to my local feed folder in my aggregator. Thats how I found this blog. I enjoy supporting aussie content first. I added a feed using feed43.com to the new blogs in my state from theaustralianindex.com just so I could keep up with some more specific local content in my area. Aggregated content, filtered by specific location I love.

    As for Gnoos, unless they’ve added features I don’t know about or are planning to before going live. the ones I saw; tagging, comments, voting – are all empty persuits without some kind of personal incentive for users. It may be great for journalists or researchers cataloguing with it’s tagging feature for future reference, but comments and voting? Why would anyone bother. What’s in it for the individual? There’s no ranking system that I can see yet to even make use of the votes other than (and i’m guessing here) in search results for specific topics/tags. But for that to be effective you have to have a commited group of users that are willing to vote on items they read for other peoples benefit? Or am I missing something personal here… personal voting cataloging? Why bother and pfft, who cares about other peoples search habits when there’s no status reward like digg etc has?

    As for post-in-search reading, unless people learn or are educated to click the more button, if your like me you’ll click the title to read more! Whoops, thats just what I’m so used to… Basically gnoos is relying on users clicking that more button and then after having read the post, commenting or voting on it, ON gnoos. Without the More button those features are basically useless. That feature is as you say scary for some. Gnoos is trying to become my local news aggregator. I already have an aggregator. And one I can customise! No good for me…but the average user, maybe.

    I’d like to see a local content click-through top 100 list or something diggishly similar not to mention a meme engine. The blogs people are reading often and causing discussion (like this post) interest me. Something like them may also give incentive to bloggers to create even better and more content should they begin to see benefits.

    At the moment, what means are there to get your voice out there in the australian blogosphere? To become an authority the general public can easily find? The big media companies like Fairfax have their own blogs(and James to manage them) now and the existing branded userbase to find them. You see the number of comments on some of them! Phenominal. They have that userbase already willing to contribute. I’d like to see an aussie social hub bringing attention these media empires have to the average joe. gnoos, austrailanblogs, news2, theaustralianindex, none of them are this for me. There’s nothing to say whats top ‘news’ other than top search terms and updated posts. They fill the needs of the creators and few educated individuals but more than that… I don’t see it.

    Somewhat useful Technorati has its blogfinder(with authority rank) and explore(for latest posts by blog tag). 1012 have tagged themselves Australian. Theaustralianindex.com on the other hand has 1360 and hasn’t been up anywhere near as long. So I do see focusing on Australia having its benefits for locals when done well.

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