On the heels of relaunching its Blogger service, Google has also released its own official blog promising "insight into the news, technology and culture of Google" and "the latest word direct from the Googleplex about new technology, hot issues, and the wide world of search."
The promises may come true in time. But so far, there's only one so-so post that's a pitch to work at Google.
How about some real insight, such as personal accounts of what's going on inside Google in the wake of the Google IPO announcement. More tales like the one Aaron Swartz recently posted on his unofficial Google Weblog would be far more interesting and blog-like.
The Google Blog is brand new, of course, so it will be watch and see as to how it develops. One thing that will be interesting is whether Google will start providing tips for search engine marketers through it.
The famed GoogleGuy poster at WebmasterWorld.com suggested recently that such a thing might happen (for more, see my GoogleGuySays Becomes GoogleGuy Paraphrased article from last month for Search Engine Watch members).
Future Of Blog Search Engine?
I had wondered if a Google Blog was coming, after sightings of a http://www.google.com/blog URL were reported last month.
There was some speculation that this newly-found URL, which had brought up a page simply saying "test," meant Google might launch a new blog search engine. That URL now shows an error, with the blog now living at a slightly different URL.
But how about the idea of a blog search at Google -- or even the ability to search for web feeds that many blogs and news sites use? Google has said in the past that a Google blog search engine will eventually come. But Blogger program manager Evan Williams said that there were no specific plans that he could discuss.
"It's certainly something we are interested in. We're always looking for stuff we should be searching," Williams said. "I'm very interested in there being an easier way to search blogs. That's all I can say on the subject."
As a reminder, Google-competitor Yahoo does offer a type of web feed search engine -- sort of. Visit the Yahoo's advanced search page, set the File Format option to RSS/XML, and now you can search through any blog and web feed content that Yahoo has indexed.
For example, a search for gmail at Feedster provides direct links to articles that were listed within RSS feeds. The same at Yahoo brings back mostly links to the home pages of sites with feeds that may have mentioned Gmail. You don't go directly to the distributed article.
For more blog and feed search engines, see the RSS News Feeds & Blog Search Engines section of Search Engine Watch. My RSS: Your Gateway To News & Blog Content article from last year also explains more about the concept of getting content through feed syndication.
Fears Over Feed Format
Another reason it seemed to some as if Google might be planning a blog or web feed search service is because recently, it was found to be looking for some files that typically containing web feed content -- even if there were no links to these files.
The Photo Matt blog explains the situation in more depth. In short, the behavior of guessing at where web feed or syndication files might live is an action that other blog search engines such as Feedster may do, to ensure they aren't missing out on good content.
The crawling also opened up Google to accusations of favoring the web feed syndication formats of Atom and RDF-based RSS 1.0 over that of the popular non-RDF RSS version known as Really Simple Syndication (I'll refer to this simply as RSS below -- and for more about feeds in general, see my Making An RSS Feed article, plus this minor update about the new Atom format).
Dave Winer, a key creator of RSS and champion of the format, saw the crawling as Google potentially trying to force people away from RSS and into the Atom format, which Google promotes through its Blogger service.
Winer was apparently told Google would respond via a weblog. Williams did blog a post addressing the issue. That post suggested that Google might just have begun experimenting with crawling blog content and that if RSS feeds hadn't yet been sought yet, that might be fixed in the future.
Getting concerned about what Google is crawling, before it has actually even launched or announced a web feed search service, certainly can be seen as jumping the gun. It makes sense to save the heavy criticism for when an actual service is launched, when everyone can see what it does or doesn't include.
However, Google's own moves in the blogging space have helped to ratchet up the paranoia. For example, the latest version of the Google Toolbar released almost a year ago with blogging features still only supports Google's own Blogger service. This is apparently after Google promised support for other blog tools following criticism of Blogger favoritism.
In addition, in February, Google launched an Atom feed capability for those using its Blogger service. An option to offer RSS feeds was not made available, opening Google again to criticism.
No Need To Fear, Says Google
Why not let Blogger users have their choice of feeds?
"Our focus is on what our users need, and we feel there's very few of them that are going to care about what format they publish with. If we did put the option in there, we're putting another thing they need to decide about and care about. We thought in the long term, it's not going to matter much," Williams said.
From what I've seen, it's true that it likely makes little difference what format is used. My own newsreader handles RSS and Atom feeds just fine. Feedster was telling me recently that this isn't a problem for them, and the My Yahoo RSS service apparently handles both, as well.
Nevertheless, Google could have side-stepped the entire debate by making the option available and leaving the decision to its users.
Williams also clarified that RSS was not taken away from Blogger users. Only the relatively few former Blogger Pro users ever had a syndication option, he said. This was through the RDF-version of RSS, of which Atom is the successor format.
Regardless of what feed format Blogger provides, the real issue for searchers is whether some Google blog search engine might favor Blogger content or content in the Atom format. Williams dismissed any such notion, especially those that came out of the recent crawling concerns.
"The conclusions that were jumped to were not correct. I have good information on that," Williams said. "We're experimenting. We're interested in feeds. It would be the antithesis of Google to exclude certain content because of some political difference."
Ironically, while Google may be interested in feeds, Google itself got more criticism for its failure to offer its news headlines through feeds. This happened after Google asked someone to stop "scraping" its news site, as a workaround to the lack of feed content.