Remapping The Blogosphere

Technorati's directory would help readers -- and advertisers

How excited is Peter Hirshberg, Technorati's executive vice-president, about his site's new toy? We're at a birthday party -- music playing, cocktails flowing, women in slinky dresses -- and he drags me over to a laptop to show off a beta version of Technorati's new searchable blog directory.

Did I mention it's Hirshberg's birthday party? Because it is. Wait. Here comes the cake. The demo is briefly suspended.

Technorati Inc., launched less than three years ago, is one of several sites seeking to overlay organizing principles upon the fast-growing tendrils of the blogosphere. Until now a Technorati search for "goldfish" spat out a series of recent blog posts that mention goldfish, regardless of what the blog actually focuses on. The new search allows users to search blogs by subject matter. This is a simple and obvious function, but one not broadly available until now. It's also sorely needed, given the volume of blogs out there. As Technorati founder and CEO David L. Sifry often says, a new blog is created almost every second, and the total number of blogs doubles around every 5 1/2 months.

What's happening with blogs is another example of how rapidly advances can become second nature to early adopters while remaining obscure to the general public. In certain circles, blogs such as Wonkette and Engadget are core information sources (as well as passwords to semi-closed worlds of insiders); in others, mentioning them garners blank stares. But this exclusivity is precisely the appeal for advertisers seeking to wed tightly targeted messages to niche audiences.

WHILE BLUE-CHIP ADVERTISERS such as Dell and Audi have embraced blogs, many Web-savvy marketing executives -- even at companies with names that imply gobs of hip cachet -- privately express frustration over higher-ups' slowness to recognize a new ad medium. Technorati's blog directory, which was launched on Sept. 2, represents a stepped-up effort to make the blogosphere more accessible to outsiders, be they clueless advertisers or newbie readers. "Consumers are finding blogs and using them as research tools, but they're having trouble navigating the space," says Shawn Gold, publisher of Weblogs Inc., which runs Engadget and more than 80 other blogs.

Technorati's search database will harness the collective smarts of a critical mass of engaged users. (Web communities from eBay (EBAY ) to open-source encyclopedia Wikipedia have developed formidable stores of knowledge in this fashion.) It begins with bloggers tagging their sites by topics of interest. Lest omnivorous bloggers try to game the system and claim they cover subjects they rarely write about, they can declare expertise in only 20 subjects, and a feedback mechanism lets users suggest that blogs be removed from certain categories. Because Technorati scans 16.4 million blogs, all it takes is those bloggers spending a few minutes with the database "for the entire system [to] get smart and correct itself very quickly," says Hirshberg.

Technorati's effort gives it first-mover advantage. IntelliSeek Inc.'s BlogPulse has a similar product, but it's available only to paying clients, says Chief Technology Officer Sundar Kadayam. And Technorati made another recent move to raise its profile among the non-cognoscenti: Its links to relevant blog posts now appear alongside articles on Newsweek's and the Washington Post's sites.

Technorati's focus on making the blog world bite-sized for a more mainstream audience comes as it takes heat from bloggers complaining about spotty searches and sluggish technology. ("We made a mistake. We didn't anticipate the growth," says Sifry, who promises that infrastructure improvements are on the way.) The initiatives also help protect against the warp-speed of competition in cyberspace. Consider another early mover in a hotly competitive Web space that, after a strong debut, lost big to an upstart after failing to give its users more. Technorati, meet first mover Friendster, and newcomer MySpace.

By Jon Fine

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