One of the most popular blog search engines isn't really a search engine at all, and its index spans far more than just blogs. Today, we'll devour a few lessons from Feedster in exploring how it offers a new model for the search business.
What is Feedster? It depends on whom you ask. On Feedster's site, the company writes, "Feedster is foremost a search engine." Yet when I asked Feedster President Chris Redlitz whether he's concerned about Google or Yahoo! dominating his business, he said, "If we were just a search engine, we'd be much more concerned. We're really much more of a syndication business." Feedster, the search and syndication engine, specializes in aggregating RSS feeds, the behind-the-scenes backbone used by blogs and a rapidly growing variety of content ranging from major news sources to classified listings.
This is how a niche search engine aims to stay competitive: by specializing its focus and differentiating its model. While a search engine on the surface, Feedster aims to engender long-term loyalty by syndicating its results and allowing users to subscribe to the feeds. That means the most valuable consumer for Feedster is not the one searching its site; it's the subscriber, who then accesses the feeds from his/her preferred reader of choice. The subscriber can even choose to receive feed updates via e-mail.
While the feed reader business, connoting a software or online application for gathering and accessing blogs and RSS feeds, is still in its infancy, the safe long-term bets for the winners there are the usual suspects: Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and AOL. In other words, many of the most valuable consumers of Feedster are those accessing its content via another search engine's site. Thus Feedster's greatest potential competitors are also its most promising distribution channels.
One key differentiator for Feedster is that it has much more content than just blogs, emphasized Redlitz. "We get compared to Technorati a lot," he said. "They're a blog search engine... We're different because we're feed-centric. We're not just looking at the blog pulse."
Feedster's business model centers on RSS advertising, syndicating ads every few posts into its feeds. If you're looking to run an advertising campaign on Feedster, get in line. "We've probably turned away more campaigns than we've run," said Redlitz. Holding Feedster back for the time being is an inventory crunch. Redlitz said Feedster could double its inventory this year, yet advertiser demand is spreading beyond the early adopters. I asked Redlitz when he foresaw inventory meeting advertiser demand. He answered bluntly, "I don't think it will."
In the context of other developments in the search engine space, Feedster fits in most closely with vertical search, both as a vertical search engine itself and as a distribution channel for other vertical search sites. In aggregating others' feeds, Feedster can be a resource where consumers can subscribe to publishers' feeds of news, jobs, movie reviews, recipes, message board posts, product listings, travel deals, and other types of content. The syndication model changes the nature of search from a pull to a push model, and in the push model, search isn't really search at all.
Keep an eye on Feedster's next moves. The company is launching a mobile service in Japan in the next several weeks, and consumers will likely benefit from personalization options down the road. One thing's for certain: even while billing itself as a syndication engine, Feedster's future developments will inevitably parallel where search engines head.
So now, when is a search engine not a search engine? In Feedster's case, it's when it can better serve consumers by making search only a small but integral part of its value proposition. It's not what you are; it's the value you provide.