It remains one of the Internet's wide-open frontiers: the blogosphere, a virtual place where millions of people post personal journals on everything from politics to sports to music.
But that frontier is fast being harnessed by companies that find value in scouring the Internet for Web logs, or blogs, and delivering them to an audience. Yesterday, Google joined a handful of sites that search and sort through blogs so users can quickly find their topics of interest.
"Traditional search engines are good at searching what's on the Web," said Allen Weiner, research vice president with research firm Gartner Inc. But increasingly, people want to focus on specialized areas such as blogs, he said. Google could do for blogs what Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes is doing for podcasts, mostly amateur audio recordings that are downloaded from the Internet to an iPod or other MP3 player. Apple recently introduced a podcast search feature in iTunes that allows users to find, subscribe to and listen to the homemade recordings.
In many forms, the Internet has already democratized other forms of publishing by eliminating the middle man. Music hobbyists, for example, can release their songs on the Web without the backing of a record label, and programmers develop and distribute their own software.
The popularity of blogs and podcasts has created an enormous volume of self-published goods, as well as new opportunities for companies such as Google Inc. to lure more people to their sites -- and possibly inflate their bottom lines, too.
"Part of having a say is letting people find what you say," said Jeff Reynar, blog search product manager for Google. The company, which held a secondary stock offering yesterday that raised $4.18 billion, has not said how or if it plans to make money from blog searching.
There are other ways for Web surfers to sift through the millions of blogs. Sites such as Technorati.com, Blogdigger.com, Feedster.com and Bloglines.com, a site owned by search engine company Ask Jeeves Inc., have been up and running for some time.
But those sites are known mostly to people familiar with the obscure offerings on the Internet. Others, notably those who are still learning to navigate the Web, likely will turn to Google or Yahoo or one of the other search engine sites that have become household names.
"Helping people find their way in the blogosphere is something that is important to us," said Joff Redfern, a product manager for Yahoo Inc., which recently refined its video and audio search tools and is looking to better integrate blog searches.
The searches also offer a glimpse into the daily zeitgeist of the online world. At one point yesterday, for example, the top three searches at Technorati.com were "Impeach Bush," "Katrina" and "Ipod Nano," the new Apple digital music player.
Increasingly, companies are searching blogs to track mentions of themselves or their products. Even Google itself became the subject of blog postings opining about its latest search tool yesterday.
A blogger on Techcrunch.com offered detailed analysis of Google's blog search tool and offered a conclusion: "Google Blog Search is fast and the ability to sort by relevance or date is an important feature. However, Google [blog] search is not a category killer like the original Google search was. Competitors took a much expected hit today, but they are still standing."