Blogs as conversations and how blog search can help fill in the gaps

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Robert Scoble, and others, are discussing blog search engines at present. It's quite interesting to see that there are lots of different approaches to the same problem. Mary Hodder's article is good in that it explains a bit about the differences in how Bloglines and Technorati get their figures. I guess it's early days in the blog search engine space but none of the existing offerings really do what I'd like ;)

You see, I think that these search engines could help to reinforce the threads of conversation that permeate the world of blogs...

For me, the best thing about blogs is the comments and the linking between blogs that agree with the point being made and those that disagree. Being able to see that, although the original poster may think that X is the best way to do something, others have commented that they prefer Y or Y and Z, or A and B, etc is great and makes the information much more valuable. These links are often in the form of comments on the article in question or as trackbacks or referrer logs that some sites display. It's these third-party comments that turn stand alone postings into valuable pieces of information. Without them blogs can just become marketing mouth pieces that spout unconfirmed and unquestioned information.

Unfortunately with the arrival of comment and trackback spam some bloggers have been forced to remove the ability to comment or ping postings because the spammers are using these facilities to boost the search rankings of their spam sites. Other bloggers prefer not to enable comments for whatever reason (scared of having their thinking challenged?) and sometimes the infrastructure fails and comments and trackbacks just fail to show up on the blog in question. I think a blog search service has the potential to revolutionise "the conversation" of blogging by allowing a browser to show both the original article and all of the other blogs that link to or reference that article. Think of it as an externalised trackback system.

To some extent Bloglines does this already if you're using it as an aggregator; it will display an 'x referrers' link at the bottom of postings when it knows about trackbacks from other blogs that it tracks. What I'd like is the Google level implementation of this; either from an RSS reader or from a toolbar that will alert me to links as I browse. So, I suppose, the killer app for me is something that does a Google level "trackback" search of the whole web whenever I browse a blog article. I don't want to have to go and do that manually in a "search engine" I want the results woven into my display of the original item. Oh, and, of course, it needs to strip out the spam...

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3 Comments

I completely agree with you. To me comments are the whole point of blogging. Otherwise, you're just talking to yourself (and anyone else who wants to watch that). The comments and tracebacks are what link blogs together to make a blogsphere.

I've realized that I use indicators in blogs to search for other good blogs (what I consider good; it's not universal). Bloggers should do a better job at leaving these indicators, blogging software should make it easier, and search engines should automatically pick up and compile these indicators.

I like when I read a good article, then I can follow the links in the comments or tracebacks to find similar blogs. I have certain interests in programming that are just plain hard to search for in search engines. The comments and tracebacks let me say, 'give me more posts like this one'.

Another type of indicator are those posts where people quote a small excerpt from some other blog and then leave some comments in their own blog. This provides a link between those two blogs, and they are likely to discuss similar topics in the future.

The negative side of these kind of posts is that they often can't stand on their own. I mean it irritates me when I have to go read the original blog first just to find out what the second blog is commenting about. They seem to follow the format of 'I found this blog engaging, and here's something I have to add'. I'd prefer it if the bloggers had the mentality 'Here's my thoughts on this issue. If you want *more* information follow this link that inspired me'.

I wish there were digest-type blogs where they would take several related articles and comment/summarize them all at once. I could then zero in on the specific topic I'm interested in, but I wouldn't have to read all those other posts just to find it.

Those kinds of cross-linking would give search engines excellent information to generate results from. Ideally, it could combine all the human generated linking I've mentioned, and weigh and generalize it all together. Then one could actually search for similar blogs or posts with related topics.

I guess places like testingreflections.com are almost the digest type blogs that you describe, though they rely on bloggers submitting their feeds to them. I think what's really needed is something external that does the digest production without the input of the bloggers... I like to see negative feedback and if the bloggers are involved then some may opt out if they dont want their postings linked to by people who don't agree with their thinking...

Just for the record... bloggers can recommend a blog to testingReflections... but it only gets added if I feel that it adds to the richness of the existing content in some way...

If I am not sure, I have a panel of selected users that I approach for their opinion before I add/reject the feed...

Sometimes I just can't add it due to RSS incompatibilities and other times they just sit in the queue for ages before I get round to reviewing them.

The quality and relevance of the content is very important to me and I work hard at retaining it.

Although testingReflections users get their own testingReflections blog, few ever add any content that doesn't live up to the standards set by the other 'Reflections bloggers. It seems to be self-regulating so far...

Antony Marcano
testingReflections.com

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