Gbloogle: what it all (may) mean

The Google buyout of Blogger is the big news in the blogosphere this morning. Dan Gillmor did a brilliant thing last night when he posted his column about this a day early and scooped the universe on the story. But the story is very light on details — presumably, this is because no one at Gbloogle wants to dish on the stuff we all want to know:

* How much?

* Will the Pyra-team all have jobs at Google?

* What does integration with Google really mean for Blogger, and, especially, for non-Blogger blogs?

The Blogger story is an interesting parable for Internet business. They shipped (very) early, with a technology that did very, very little. They saw this tiny little need: an easy means of handling putting little blobs of text in order and managing archives of the old blobs, and then they filled it.

The need was little, the demand was enormous. Blogger ballooned to fantastic size, in such short order that it far outstripped the technology's ability to keep up, hence the plague of Blogger outages that provoked howls of outrage from the blog-using public.

And there were security issues, multiple break-ins in which lots of passwords and other personal data were compromised (though never as much as the blogosphere fervrently avowed must have been leaked).

It was fast. It was loose. It wasn't planned carefully and executed with precision, it was hammered together as quickly as possible and patched on the fly — and it held together well enough to handle more than 90,000,000 posts.

Blogger's financial woes and internecine struggles were a soap-opera that the whole blogosphere watched avidly, often meanspiritedly. Its finances were always a source of axe-grinding, since they were so visible: disgruntled laid-off employees kvetched about missing their back-pay, the BlogSpot hosting service was first overwhelmed by banners and then slipped into homogeniety as the number of banner-buyers contracted to a very few (a phenomenon that afflicted the whole Internet, of course).

Not that it made the service any less popular. In fact, it continued to grow — which, ironically, made it less reliable and more expensive to run.

And it didn't matter. Problems with reliability, security breaches, financial woes — none of them could detract from the service's popularity. Blogger's small successes — a cash infusion from Trellix, a deal to provide blogs through a Brazilian media-portal — were cheered throughout the blogosphere with glee that nearly matched the nastiness that greeted its problems.

Blogger's been treading water. It has a million blogs tied around its ankle, users who require constant care and feeding (I'm one of them!), who occupy a large fraction of its cycles. New users flow in every day, and the competition is sniffing around its heels, adding features (better RSS, trackback, more flexible APIs, RSS aggregation) that often require less scalability than they would in Blogger's context (this is especially true of Movable Type, which, given its distributed nature, doesn't need to ensure that a new feature can be used by a million blogs simultaneously).

There's a lot of technology research and development going on in blog-mining, from Blogdex to Technorati to Meg and Nick's seekrit new tool, which sounds very exciting indeed. The metadata that can be extracted from blogs — trackbacks, blogrolls, interlinks, RSS — provide a very rich field for researchers. Sociologists, marketers, journalists, publishers and anthropoligists are all thrilled to have this ready-to-hand source of quantifiable data about how information propagates, and what it all means.

Google's made a business out of this sort of research. Its PageRank algorithm is the best idea-diffusion-miner we've got right now, and in hindsight, Google's move into blogs seems inevitable.

Google's done very good work with some of the other companies they've acquired, like DejaNews, which is a thousand times the service that it ever was pre-Google. Google's got a whole lot of genuine grown-ups running its show, seasoned entrepreneurs and brilliant engineers whose approach is anything but fast-and-loose. Indeed, after the Deja acquisition, there was a seemingly infinite interregnum when all of that Usenet history was offline, while Google engineered-up a world-beating back-end for it and then carefully decanted all of Usenet into it.

Presumably, Blogger can't go dark while Ev, Steve, Rudy and the gang confab with Google's engineers and distil all the lessons of Blogger's 90,000,000 posts, its outages and rollouts, its complaints and praise, and figure out how to design the next generation of Blogger. We do know that the BlogSpot hosting will migrate to Google's server-farm, but I'm willing to bet that that's not an instant turn-around. Google's server-farm is a core asset and an essential piece of the Internet's infrastructure, and they can't afford to pour BlogSpot into their racks and see what happens.

But it's that usage-volume at Google that makes this deal so exciting. Like Amazon, Google has so much traffic that it can afford to roll out small-scale trials — Remember the thumbnails of search-results? The limited trial of Folding@Home in the GoogleBar? — and get instant results about how well a new feature performs. Google's core expertise is making sense of data gathered from the Internet, so it's eminently capable of making sense of the results of these trials.

What this means is that once Google actually does integrate Blogger proper into its service, we can expect very rapid and very solid innovation. Gbloogle will be able to sneak features in for a day or two, extract the data, and make some sense of the data, decide whether its worth keeping the feature, and engineer something Google-grade to put on the back-end.

But Blogger's success isn't only about what Blogger does. Services like the list of recently updated weblogs, open protocols like TrackBack, and other technologies developed by rival blogging companies are the reason we have a vibrant, enormous Blogosphere, and not an anemic, partisan Bloggersphere. If Google is able to index every Blogger post (and, one presumes, every message-board post, once the feature is integrated), that's great news for Blogger users, but it won't be as powerful as the other blogmining tools until and unless it can do the same for anyone who publishes something that is self-identified as a "blog."

This will be a real challenge. The real challenge. If Google pulls it off successfully, it will be able to generate tons of great, new, brilliant features, use its data-mining to refine them and build secondary services atop them, and that innovation will flow out to the other blogging tools. And vice-versa. Blogger is a success because of the work that Meg and Ev and Steve and Rudy and Jason and the rest did, but it's also a success because it borrowed ideas from other entrepreneurs and inventors, not seeking competitive advantage in locking out interoperability.

If the new Gbloogle of a year or two from now is able to treat all blogs as first-class citizens, this is the best news ever for blogdom.

I've spent the past two hours going through every single blog-mention of Google's buyout of Blogger, and by far the best speculation about the future of Gbloogle I've seen comes from Matt Webb:


They've got one-to-one connections. Links. Now they've realised – like
Ted Nelson – that the fundamental unit of the web isn't the link, but
the trail. And the only place that's online is… weblogs.

There are two levels to the trail:

1 – what you see
2 – what you do
("And what you feel on another track" — what song is that?)

And the trail is, in its simplest form, organised chronologically.
Later it gets more complex. Look to see Google introduce categories
based on DMOZ as a next step.