Last week I wrote about the currently fashionable area of blogs. Now, as if on cue, comes the announcement that Google has bought Blogger, one of the top blog software outfits. The Blogger-Google (Bloogle, perhaps) story not only signals the coming of age of blogs, but provides a perfect example of the real strengths of what is sometimes termed the blogosphere: the world of blogs.
Dan Gillmor, a journalist with the San Jose Mercury News, and one of the more thoughtful bloggers, broke the story with a posting to his blog on Saturday 15 February, timed at 7.41 pm. At 9.10 pm, Evan Williams, the creator and owner of Blogger, added a note to his blog that news of the deal with Google was out in the open. Nothing remarkable in that, you might think - except for the fact that Williams was on stage at the time as part of a panel in Los Angeles discussing blogs.
As he explains (in his blog, of course), he used a Wi-Fi connection to log on and read Gillmor's blog then update his own. At the end of the panel discussion, in what is sure to be remembered as a classic moment in online history, he asked for the link to the Gillmor story in his blog to be pulled up and displayed on the public screen being used for the discussion - to the audience's amazement and delight.
The self-referential nature of the medium means that the Blogger-Google story generated an enormous range of comment in other blogs; as a blog entry, the Gillmor story naturally has a good selection of these. Also worth exploring is the Google Blog - not officially connected with Google, but a good source of news, blogs and other links related to the search engine.
But Google presumably did not buy Blogger simply to provide an opportunity for blogs to shine: so what exactly will this new Bloogle be?
The acquisition does not represent an entirely new direction for the company. Back in 2001 Google bought Deja.com, originally known as Deja News. This saved an important archive of Usenet postings from oblivion, and added an extremely useful, but relatively little-known feature to Google.
More recently, Google created a news search site that lets users search through the latest stories from around the world. Both of these clearly have much in common with blogs, which often function as web-based discussion groups driven by news in its broadest as well as most trivial sense.
Blogger also brings with it a large community, which is something untried for Google. Another search engine, Lycos, took this route some time ago when it bought the huge Tripod online community, but the match has never been very convincing. Interestingly, Tripod now offers blogs as part of its various paid-for membership schemes.
But it is unlikely that Google was prodded by this move to buy Blogger. It was probably more the fact that Google's core strength is in mining linked information - the web - and as last week's column noted, blogs are simply a variation on this theme. Maybe Google hopes that blogs and their myriad links will provide a kind of auxiliary ranking system that will boost the usefulness of its main search algorithms. It will certainly be interesting to see what exactly Bloogle turns out to be.
So far, Google's track record has been good. But some fear it will become too successful, and that its growing power will corrupt it, turning it into a kind of Microsoft of the search engine world. Keeping an eye on this kind of thing is one area where blogs excel. Let's hope those now under Google's stewardship continue to do so.
This was first published in March 2003