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Ask.com's Blog & Feed Search Joins the Blogosphere
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Posted On June 5, 2006
Ask.com has added a new search category to the list of options on its home page. Click on the "Blogs & Feeds" option (bottom right on the list) or enter http://blogsearch.ask.com directly and key terms into the search window. Relying on Bloglines input, the new service currently indexes more than 1.5 billion posts that extend "from 2001 through 5 minutes ago (or less)," more than 2.5 million individual feeds, and 7,000 news sites. The first results you see will come from blog postings. If you want RSS aggregator feed content or content from syndicated news sources, tabs at the top of the result screen will take you to them. Relevance ranking in this new service has a significant advantage in that it can draw algorithmically on the popularity of blogs with users of Bloglines. A free "All-in-one Blog and news feed search, online subscriptions, news reader, blog publishing, and social sharing tool," Bloglines was acquired by Ask.com's parent company, IAC/InterActiveCorp (http://www.iac.com) early in 2005. The new search capabilities are also available directly to Bloglines users in an enhanced version. Remember that, because no obvious link connects users of Ask.com to the separate Bloglines site (http://www.bloglines.com).

The relevancy ranking impact of Bloglines could turn out to be a critical advantage for Ask.com's Blog & Feed Search service. Other popular blog search engines have been trying to help searchers reach more authoritative content. For example, Google Blog Search tops the results page with generic recommendations for blogging sites. Yahoo! distinguishes authoritative news blogs by including specific blogs in its Yahoo! News section. Technorati lets bloggers label their blogs with broad categories, while users can sort content by frequency of links by other bloggers or even confine searches to favorite sites. Bloglines is already in position to have that kind of user flow in place on a broad level. Hundreds of thousands of Bloglines users indicate their preferences through searches, subscriptions, clippings, and sharing activities. Ask.com can cumulate the activity of that somewhat more sophisticated user base to enhance its basic ExpertRank popularity algorithms for ranking search results in the general Ask.com service.

Apostolos Gerasoulis, executive vice president of search technology at Ask.com, saluted the process: "On the blogosphere, people provide the best way to discover the freshest, highest-quality feeds—information that isn't exposed to crawlers. In addition, this ‘collective human intelligence' provides a natural defense against spam, as people typically do not subscribe to low-quality content."

The Ask Blog & Feed Search offers these features:

  • Sort by relevance, date, and popularity
  • Preview feeds with short pop-up "annotations" by mousing over the Binoculars icon (a feature Ask.com is gradually introducing throughout its Web searches)
  • Exports search results to other services, e.g., clips to Bloglines, digg, del.icio.us, and Newswire and offers to subscribe to feeds in Bloglines, Google Reader, NewsGator, MyYahoo!, and general RSS
  • Set up immediate subscriptions for new content through its own service
  • Save search results to Ask's MyStuff accounts
  • Limit to seven languages (English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish)

Searchers who use the Bloglines search option for the new service can also limit searches to include or exclude their own subscriptions, specify more Boolean options (five as compared to Ask.com's one) and many more date-specific controls, and view streaming media content. Speaking of language options, the Bloglines Advanced Search offers limits to not seven but 20 languages (adding Czech, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, and Swedish). Following the geographic theme, the same day Ask.com released the new service in the U.S., it also launched the service in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

Reviewing the service (apparently the Bloglines version), Chris Sherman made the following comment in SearchDay (#1324):

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.

The service still needs some work. For example, I could not find any Help or FAQ section to assist users of the new search feature. And what the Ask.com people sometimes describe as a sorting option (posts, feeds, or news) is actually a task users must remember to perform, if they want all the service has to offer on any specific search. Perhaps providing a sampler of results from each category as the basic results page would protect searchers from missing relevant content, particularly when even the experts find it hard to define the differences in blog postings, RSS feeds, and media news items.

The best advice at this point is to try the new service. It works best for searchers using Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Firefox. Mac users may have problems with Safari or IE, so Ask.com advises them to use Firefox and promises to "fix it ASAP!" If you have questions, suggestions, complaints, or comments, send them to "our man at Ask," Gary Price, Ask's director of online resources (askblogandfeedsearch@myway.com). He promises to direct any feedback to where it can do the most good. When slogging through the blogosphere, searchers need all the help they can get.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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