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Ask Debuts Blog & Feed Search

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Ask's new blog and feed search offers a high-quality alternative for finding information in the blogosphere, with a number of unique tools not found on competing services.

Although Ask acquired the popular Bloglines feed reader and blog search site in February 2005, it has run Bloglines as a separate service. Today, the company is rolling out a new blog and feed search capability on both Ask.com and Bloglines.com that combines some of the best features of both services.

"It's almost like an eBay for information," said Daniel Read, Vice President, Product Management, Ask.com.

The new blog & feed search shows up as a new menu item on Ask's search toolbox on the right side of the home page, as a "search" tab on the top of the Bloglines search interface.

Ask takes a different approach to blog and feed search than most other services, which use specialized crawlers to identify content in the blogosphere. Instead, Ask uses the data it has captured from Bloglines "hundreds of thousands" subscribers to identify blogs that people have actually subscribed to.

This means Ask doesn't have to guess whether a web page or feed is actually relevant, as subscribers have already "tagged" the content as something they want to read in Bloglines. In addition, the service can use the number of subscribers to a particular blog as a proxy for popularity—something that's comparatively difficult for other blog search services, since links to individual blog posts don't necessarily equate to the overall popularity of a blog on an ongoing basis.

Ask also uses the Expert Rank subject-specific technology it's been evolving since its purchase of Teoma back in 2001 to further tune search results.

The combination makes for a powerful blog and feed search, and one with a number of additional advanced options that will appeal to searchers trying to sift through all of the noise in the blogosphere.

A basic search lets you limit results to posts, feeds or news within the blogosphere. Unlike many blog search services, which sort results with the most recent posts appearing first, Ask Blog & Feeds search lists results by relevance. You can re-sort results by date or popularity by clicking a link.

When sorted by relevance or popularity, a dropdown menu lets you further refine your results, displaying results from the last hour, day, week or month.

One of the nicest features of the new service is the ability to preview results before clicking through, using the "binoculars" feature similar to that found in Ask web search results. The nice thing about this feature is that it previews the entire feed as a popup above the search result, allowing you to scan the feed before taking action.

If you like what you see, you can save the feed, which is automatically stored in a "my saved results" page. Alternately, you can subscribe to the feed using your Bloglines, or to the Google reader, Newsgator, Yahoo or as a raw RSS feed. Kudos to Ask for not trying to lock users into Bloglines and providing these alternative choices.

You can also post the search result to your own Bloglines blog— or to Digg, Deli.cio.us or Newsvine. Read says Ask eventually plans to have an API to allow users to post to any bookmarking service, or subscribe via any feed reader.

Since blogging and feeds tend to be more associated with individuals rather than organizations, Ask has also implemented a sophisticated name-recognition capability. Search for a name, and for active bloggers you see links to posts by and posts about the person. Another feature surfaces "top feeds" based on a combination of relevance to your query and popularity of blogs that match your query.

Ask is also offering an advanced search for blogs and feeds. This opens an Ajax-like dropdown below the search form with additional feature such as Boolean search, a more precise date search, and the ability to search for posts written in specific languages.

Although the underlying search technology is the same at both Ask.com and Bloglines.com, the advanced search form on Bloglines has a few more filters. In addition, results in Bloglines that include streaming video, from sites like YouTube, for example, can be viewed directly in search results, without the need to open up an external video player.

Read says the new search service contains more than 1.5 billion posts in index, and is adding 6 million per day, locating the new content largely with the help of Bloglines user activity. "That was one of the reasons we were interested in acquiring it over a year ago," he said.

Ask's new Blogs & Feeds service, in short, rocks. Ask continues to deliver on its promise of rolling out new, innovative products by providing a truly superior search of the noisy, often pointless depths of the blogosphere. It's well worth a try, whether you track hundreds of feeds or just occasionally want to check out the alternative points of view offered by the millions of bloggers who might not otherwise be found.

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