Searching for Order in the Blogosphere

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By Leslie Walker
Thursday, July 27, 2006

I was all ears when a man named Tony Conrad sat down next to me at a recent dinner party and introduced himself as the founder of a new blog search engine called Sphere.

Oh, how I long for such a thing. With nearly 50 million blogs online, slogging through their gazillion entries makes me feel like one of the minions at the National Security Agency assigned to monitor billions of phone calls.


The challenge of figuring out which blogs to read probably will grow even harder as more regular folks join the stampede to publish on the Web. Some estimate the blog universe is doubling every six months. Technorati, a rival of Sphere, estimates that 125,000 new blogs appear online daily.

Conrad's San Francisco-based firm ( ) is one of many start-ups jockeying to become the Google of the blogosphere. All are developing indexing formulas to scour blogs, organize the postings and help readers pinpoint material that interests them. Sphere joins Google Blog Search ( ), Icerocket ( ), Feedster ( ) and Technorati ( ). The latter is one of the most trafficked blog search services and a business partner of

I tried each and found them all useful in identifying new blogs to read and surfacing fascinating tidbits at familiar blogs. But none left me feeling much better about the whole blog-search experience. That may be due to sheer volume -- I mean, 50 million blogs. It also may be how blogs are structured, with brief entries in reverse chronological order and lots of links to other blogs. I often feel like I've wandered into the middle of a cocktail party conversation that has been going on for hours -- make that years.

Technorati founder Dave Sifry said his team spent loads of time trying to figure out better ways to help ordinary folks navigate blogs, leading to a site redesign this week. The new look borrows heavily from newspapers, breaking out the hottest blog postings of the moment in familiar sections such as entertainment, sports, business and technology.

"The Internet is moving from the 1990s metaphor of the world's biggest library to become an enormous river of conversations," Sifry said. "It's a place where we all participate, and the implications are really significant."

In simplest form, Technorati, Sphere and their rivals interact with users via a search box. People type in key phrases and get blog postings matching their interests.

But how the sites come up with those results differs.

Technorati, for example, ranks results based mainly on the number of hyperlinks each blog gets from other blogs. Like Google, whose search-result formulas count links between Web sites as virtual votes, Technorati sees links between blogs as indicators of an author's popularity. Sifry even views cross-linking as an emerging form of social currency.

"In this new world of conversation, the hyperlink is becoming a new form of social gesture between people," he said. "It's something akin to a tap on the shoulder."

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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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