Whenever I'm talking to marketers about how to listen to their brands, blog search engines always come up as a good starting point. I've been having the same conversations for years, and with minor exceptions, I'd do fine using the same slides I've used since I started.
Here are some examples of the blog search engine landscape:
Blogpulse, Icerocket, and Trendpedia: It's really hard to tell the difference between these blog search engines. I like Trendpedia's charts and interface the best, but I can't swear which engine is really the best.
Technorati: You can find useful information about blogs such as how influential they are, and the "rising posts and stories" section is helpful, but it still has been slow to evolve, and the one chart option available hasn't improved at all.
Regator: I met the team behind this startup at Blog World Expo over the weekend. It does a decent job at categorizing posts and pulling in multimedia, but its layout is dizzying. Perhaps with some design fixes it'll come around.
Alltop: This pseudo-search engine co-founded by Guy Kawasaki is more of a blog directory. Pick a topic and it lists relevant blogs and five recent posts. In a recent post about the latest site's latest news, Kawasaki includes a stick figure drawing that explains Alltop. This gets to two problems I have with Alltop. First, if you need elaborate drawings and other documentation to explain a search engine (including a tutorial video), then there's something wrong with it. Simplicity wins with search; Google never required a tutorial. Secondly, the drawing excitedly notes at the end that Alltop "kinda looks like a magazine rack." I wouldn't say that's a compliment, as magazine racks are horribly inefficient to find anything besides titles you already recognize. More to the point, the Marketing category has 188 blogs listed in 63 rows. How is that an effective way to find good marketing information?
Google Blog Search: The interface is familiar, and I like how you can easily find posts on a specific date. The index also feels more reliable than others because of the halo effect of the brand. Yet there's nothing there beyond the search engine and a few recommended blogs. With all of the resources Google has, including Trends, Analytics, and News, Google has the potential to offer the only blog search engine you'll ever need.
What's missing from these engines, broadly, is a sense of understanding a user's purpose. Technorati seems to do the best job here, since it's really a resource focused on bloggers ("tech" is in its name after all), and features for consumers, marketers, or others presumably aren't as highly prioritized.
The problem for these engines generally is that people don't wake up thinking, "Man, I wish I could find a blog." That happens once in a while when people switch jobs (especially when switching industries), but that's not an overarching need. There are several types of audiences, but I'll focus on one broad category: marketers, and anyone who's looking for the buzz on their business, industry, and competitive landscape. What would make blog search engines better for this audience?
1) Better charts. Okay, so we can compare up to three terms on a line graph (Blogpulse, Icerocket), throw in a pie chart (Trendpedia), or use a bar chart for one term (Technoarti). That's it?
2) Topic analysis. Why not parse the content to show what's causing spikes or dips? What if there was a Farecast for blogs, which tried to predict whether buzz would rise or fall in coming days?
3) Broad matching for searches. Do we really need to search for "Barack Obama" and "Barak Obama" just to be sure we're getting everything? (Fun fact: Google Trends shows New Mexico residents are most likely to search for the misspelling.) Google handles misspellings better than others, but it falls short in other tests, such as showing very different results for "NYC" and "New York City."
There's much more that can be done, such as including blogs as just one social media channel indexed. FriendFeed might in time emerge as the most valuable search engine because of its advantages there. My bet's still on Google to nail this, especially in terms of the features that marketers need, as it has the best track record of giving away information to bolster market share, and it's in the financial position to do so. Just as Google Analytics competes with Omniture, and Google Trends for Websites competes with comScore, Google Trends for Blogs could emerge to rival BuzzLogic, Radian6, and other subscription-based buzz monitoring services.
That hardly means the books are shut. Heck, BuzzLogic launched an ad network to compete with Google AdSense, so no one's rolling over. I'd just like to see the rivalries among blog search engines heat up so marketers can reap all the benefits.