Blogging & Breaking Search News

Today, the news is officially out that Ask Jeeves has purchased Bloglines. Some in the media were told about this over the weekend, under what's known as an "embargo" agreement, where the news is agreed not to be released until a set date.

Despite that, the news broke out to the public via the Napsterization blog. CBS MarketWatch has an article that looks at how blogging supposedly means that secrets or embargoed news like this are harder to keep: Bloggers won't keep a secret.

Author Frank Barnako is correct in saying that such leaks can definitely make a big news announcement less attractive to those pondering coverage for when it "officially" releases. Indeed, the longer the rumors go around, the less newsworthy something seems when it finally gets out there:

If and when Ask Jeeves does say it has acquired the free Weblog and directory service, and its database, investors, and the media may be difficult to excite. Secret's out of the bag - thanks to blogs.

But as always, leaks are not a blogging problem. Robert Scoble in Bloggers can't keep secrets, journalist says correctly points out that bloggers do keep secrets as well as break them, just as the traditional press breaks embargoes and NDAs all the time.

As someone who deals with embargoed news regularly -- and then has watched these embargoes get broken, Robert's comments resonate with me. It's hardly bloggers that only do it.

In fact, when it comes to search news, I'd say it's forums rather than blogs that deserve more credit for getting "secret" news out to the public quickly. It's much more common that something I'm briefed on by a search engine that "no one knows about" starts showing up on search forums like our own Search Engine Watch Forums, WebmasterWorld or a number of other places.

Blogs certainly help secrets get out faster, but forums have been doing it for longer when it comes to the search world. And the main point is that in any case: blogs, forums or traditional media outlets, the ability for a search engine to control the exact release of news is always iffy.

Breaking an embargo also isn't the same as the news leaking out. An embargo is only broken when someone has agreed to hold news until a set date and then goes out with the news earlier. A blogger who learns something, or a forum member who posts -- or even a journalist that can confirm a rumor through other channels -- none of them are breaking an embargo if they haven't agree to anything. They're just breaking news.

Indeed, Mary Hodder who broke the news (not the embargo) of the Bloglines purchase notes that she hadn't agreed to any embargo on the news. Indeed, if you go back to her original post, she didn't provide any any official source of confirmation from either Ask Jeeves or Bloglines. That's why when I saw the post, I personally didn't assume she'd broken any embargo.

In contrast, had she'd named anyone connected with Bloglines or Ask Jeeves, provided any official backing, then it would be a different story. She might have broken an embargo. But just as likely, someone may have passed along the information without putting any restriction on it.

Why bother mentioning any of this at all? It's a good opportunity to tell our readers how we handle embargoes. It's common that we know about upcoming search news before any official release date. Sometimes search companies want our feedback on something before it goes out. Other times, they want to ensure we are well prepared to cover the news when it goes out.

We honor embargos such embargoes, because we find it more valuable to be fully briefed on something rather than rush to be the first out there with news. Don't get me wrong -- we love to break things as much as possible. But if it's a trade-off between being comprehensive or being first, we'll usually go with being comprehensive.

At our discretion, we'll break embargoes if we seem them broken by others. If the news starts going out with some type of official involvement -- someone from the company being cited publicly about the news, a company rep discussing it on a forum, it goes out on a company blog, information goes live on the company web site or similar actions -- then we may consider the embargo off and release our own story.

I'll leave off with an example of this. Last year, Google set an embargo of 8am Pacific on October 5 for releasing information about expanding its Google Print program. Our story was prepared and waiting to go once the embargo lifted. But then at around 2am Pacific, Reuters ran a story about the expansion, citing someone from Google.

What happened? Google was out at a print press trade show, and it decided to talk about the program earlier than originally planned. So Google broke its own embargo -- and that's why we moved our own story earlier than planned.