Google wins — because it doesn’t suck

by Mathew on December 28, 2006 · 40 comments

LeeAnn Prescott from Hitwise has a much-discussed report about Google’s blog search getting a greater “market share of web visits” (Hitwise terminology for a combination of page views and visitors) than Technorati, the original blog search engine. This has led Om Malik, among others to write Technorati’s eulogy.

I’m not sure whether the ascendence of Google’s blog search spells the end of Technorati and/or Sphere — another blog search tool, which has done deals with media outlets such as Time magazine to put a “Sphere It” button on their stories — but I am sure of one thing. Google’s blog search is better for one very simple reason: It doesn’t suck.

I should qualify that. Technorati can be useful for searching specific terms, and using the “authority” ranking is not a bad tool. But when it comes right down to it, I agree with Erick searching for posts on a topic through Technorati is just not very useful — or not as useful as Google’s blog search. As Zoli Erdos and others have pointed out many times (here’s his latest roundup), Technorati also has numerous technical problems that continue to crop up.

hitwise.JPG

Searching related posts through Sphere, meanwhile, is quite honestly pathetic. Whenever I see a “Sphere It” button or link, I click it just to see what happens, and 99 times out of 100 it is a boatload of crap. I’ve seen links to things that literally don’t make any sense at all. Beside a blog post I recently saw a link that said there were over 1,000 related posts at Sphere, and I just knew that the vast majority were going to be functionally useless.

For the record, Mark Cuban’s IceRocket blog search isn’t much better. When I want to write about a particular issue, either on the blog or for a story at the Globe and Mail, I will almost always search to see if a blogger somewhere has linked to something that might present an alternative point of view or an interesting perspective — and I routinely wind up back at Google’s blog search.

Is it that Google’s algorithm is better? I’m not enough of a geek to know. You have to admit that Google knows search. And one thing I know for sure about their blog search: It is just better.

Update:

Mark Cuban, who is not only IceRocket’s founder but also clearly its chief evangelist, has posted several comments here defending his company’s blog search that are well worth reading. After giving it some thought, I would like to revise my original comment that IceRocket “isn’t much better” than Sphere. For some searches, it clearly is better — and arguably as good as Google. And no, I didn’t change my mind just because Mark beat up on me :-)

Update 2:

I spent some time on the phone with Tony and Martin of Sphere (who responded in the comments on my initial post), and I think that — much as I like the imagery — “boatload of crap” might have been a little harsh when describing Sphere’s results. As Martin points out, some of the searches, including ones that use blog posts of mine as the source, bring fairly targeted and relevant results.

I think the problem, at least from my perspective, is twofold: One, Sphere draws relevance from the entire post as well as from the rest of the blog — therefore, if a post is short and/or the blog writes about a lot of different subjects, then a Sphere search isn’t going to come up with results that are all that relevant (Tony says it didn’t work particularly well on Scoble’s blog for that reason).

What happens in those cases is that Sphere comes up with a lot of related posts, which is why on some blogs I see a Sphere widget that says “56,975 related posts” and the first thing I think is “bullshit — there can’t possibly be that many related posts.” (Tony agreed with me on that one).

The bottom line is that Sphere is still trying to find the best method, just as Google and IceRocket are. I appreciate Tony and Martin taking the time to talk to me about it, especially after I dumped on them.

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