Sifting Through The Blogs

We’ve taken to blogging like ants to cookie crumbs.

In July, blog search service Technorati tracked more than 13.3 million blogs and 1.3 billion links, with an average daily posting volume topping 900,000.

But not all blogs are “real” — updated regularly by someone who’s interested or knowledgeable about a topic. You have toenail gazers, abandoned efforts, and link farmers, blogs created solely to improve search engine rankings of other blogs or Web sites.

Then, there’s comment spam, posts to a blog’s comments section that are promotional or made merely to insert a link into the blog’s content and improve its search engine ranking.

Jason Calacanis, CEO of blog publishing network Weblogs Inc., estimates that only around 4 million of the blogs in Technorati’s index are “real” bloggers.

At the same time, user-generated content, in the form of personal blogs or comments on others’ blogs, enriches a site’s content, builds community and provides valuable page views for advertising. But publishers need a way to encourage participation while bringing the most relevant content to the top.

“Community is really valuable on our network,” Calacanis said. “We average three or four comments to every post we do, and each is, on average, the same size as the average [blog entry].”

So Calacanis instituted the “Star System” for Weblogs Inc.’s home-grown blogging platform. Bloggers hand out stars for good comments. Each week, the 20 most-starred comment contributors are featured in a list on the side of the blogs; a sort of dynamic blogroll.

While people appreciate the recognition, Calacanis said referrals from this list to the contributors’ own blogs or sites can add an extra 50,000 hits for them, as well as improved standing with search engines.

While Weblogs Inc. uses proprietary software, iUpload offers similar features to its customers. The 4-year-old company began as a content management vendor; it has since rejiggered its product to focus on user-generated content.

The iUpload content generation system starts with free blogging software that lets anyone sign up and start posting to an individual blog branded by the provider. Its customers include newspapers that want to increase community involvement, and CEO Robin Hopper said the software can also be used by businesses for intranets or extranets.

“They are able to let people write about whatever they want in their blogs, and they don’t worry so much about whether [bloggers] are writing that content gem or taking pictures of their big toes,” Hopper said. “Let that live in their own blogs.”

Editors can manually choose content to be showcased, use a semi-automatic process, or let the iUpload software automatically feed content into the main site based on rules. The primary tool for publishers to quickly identify likely content is a reputation system not unlike that used by Slashdot, with the software taking the place of readers’ votes on the usefulness of a post.

In April 2004, iUpload added blogging tools to its content management applications, and soon after, The Bakersfield Californian newspaper signed on to use the platform to create the Northwest Voice. A print issue of the Voice is printed every two weeks, with most of the content contributed by readers via a form on the Web site.

The Northwest Voice has an open-door policy, aiming to include everything that meets minimum standards on the Web site, and as much contributed content as possible in the print version as well.

The software also can play a role in information-sharing with vendors and partners. For example, Stillwater National Bank uses iUpload for trafficking mortgage deals.

The firm specializes in commercial lending, and frequently partners with other institutions for large mortgages for health care facilities. According to Hopper, Stillwater mortgage bankers use the system to publish information about mortgage opportunities, attaching relevant documents. The software integrates with the bank’s customer relationship management system.

Jupiter Research analyst Barry Parr said most blog content is discovered through links and mentions in other blogs. “People find blogs organically, and so you don’t need a recommendation engine,” he said. “The challenge is surfacing things that aren’t obvious.”

Search remains a primary method of finding blog content, but blog-specific search tools may not be the right answer, according to Parr. “If I have a directed question about something, do I want to limit my search to blogs?” he asked.

Earlier this month, SearchBlox released version 3.0 of its Content Search Software with tools that aggregate and search RSS and Atom web feeds. London-based SearchBlox provides search technology for corporate Web sites and intranets; the addition of RSS and Atom feeds lets companies use corporate blog content along with its Web content.

SearchBlox CEO Robert Selvaraj said the rise of content creation software that includes easy-to-use blogging tools necessitates a new way of indexing corporate content.

“There are all these wikis and weblogs that come as part of the application, and they all are searchable, but there’s no way to consolidate all the content in one place,” said Selvaraj, who added that SearchBlox regularly spiders all enterprise content, automatically indexing only content that has changed.

“It’s a more efficient way than having to spider the entire Web site to know what’s changed,” he said. “It gives you a much better view of what’s happening in the enterprise.”

Adding SearchBlox to public Web sites, he said, will let visitors who search for a particular product, for example, see not only the product information, but also what the CEO said about the product in a blog.

If the CEO is blogging about toenails, that can stay her secret.

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