To the unassuming eye, blog search firm PubSub is engaging in business as usual. The homepage features various lists users can subscribe to, proudly displays its stats (tracking 2,300 new items per minute), and the service is working as well as it ever has.
But beneath that public veneer, exists this reality: PubSub is in deep trouble. It stopped working with AOR PAN Communications months ago and esteemed technology Web site TechCrunch reported on its likely demise.
PubSub CTO Bob Wyman admitted difficulties on his blog.
"Rumors have been flying lately about the demise of PubSub.com," he wrote. "While I've seen quite a bit of exaggeration in various forums, I can't deny that things are not going well for us. Our days are numbered."
"A recent attempt to execute a merger has been blocked and we've been blocked from raising equity financing that would allow us to continue to pay salaries and pay off our $3 million in debt," he continued. "Thus, our "doors" will close soon if we can't find someone to pull us out of the current situation. Persons with fast access to cash and a desire for some of the industry's best technology are advised to contact us rapidly..."
PubSub perhaps will be the first major blog search firm to go under. It may not be the last, as blog search operates in a much more complicated game than regular search. Hierarchies often shift; links are traded by the minute; and users often complain about their posts not showing up in results. Bloggers complain about their Web sites not being indexed.
Adding to that difficulty is that posts come flying in from multiple platforms like Six Apart's Moveable Type and Typepad, Google's Blogger, and Microsoft's MSN Spaces, among others. And PR professionals can find it beguiling to ascertain which posts about their company (positive or negative) are coming from a source trusted by readers.
PR professionals adapting to the new media market often complain that they are unsure what to do with the raw data gleaned from blog search. That difficulty is only compounded when it's unknown what percentage of total posts that number represents.
According to David Sifry's "State of the Blogosphere" report in May 2006, "Technorati tracks about 1.2 million new blog posts each day, about 50,000 per hour."
Technorati, one of the first to begin cataloguing blogs, appears to be the market leader, judging just by the rancor I've witnessed when slighted bloggers have attacked Sifry at industry events when their blogs were omitted from searches. It has expedited the rollout of features like highlighting favorite blogs and showing detailed stats for referrals from other blogs, while suffering criticisms that it should focus first on perfecting search.
For awhile blog search was a start-ups game, but it was always assumed that Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft would enter the fray. They all have, but without a clear-cut favorite winning universal praise. No one has come close to perfecting blog search.
Unlike other markets, where an established leader evokes fear into potential competitors, blog search engines continue to come to market. The most recent highly-publicized launch, Sphere, received plaudits from TechCrunch for its add-ons, but grumbles have persisted around the core element: basic search.
With so many blog software platforms, blog search may never get perfect. But it needs to get a whole lot better before companies can truly understand what their customers are saying and thinking.