On Thursday, the Oakland, Calif.-based search site plans to add a Blogs & Feeds tab to its Internet search tools menu and to more thoroughly integrate its search engine with its online news aggregation site, Bloglines.
"The other guys are taking their eyes off the ball," says Daniel Read, Ask.com's VP of consumer products and user experience, referring to efforts by the major search engines to promote services unrelated to search. "We believe what we've come up with is truly industry-leading search."
Google seems to have anticipated such criticism. In a press event in early May at Google's corporate headquarters, CEO Eric Schmidt said, "Search is still central," adding later, "We have a heavy, heavy investment in new search algorithms."
Industry-leading though its technology may be, Ask.com's market share lags. With 5.8% of the search market in April, according to comScore Networks, a 0.3% decline over the course of a year, Ask.com currently ranks 5th behind Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Time Warner Network. But Ask.com keeps searching for a way to improve its position.
"The reason we're getting into blog search," says Read, "is it's the fastest growing content type on the Web."
Indeed, bloggers generate a lot of content. The blogosphere is doubling in size every six months and is 60 times larger than it was three years ago, according to blog search site Technorati.com, which tracks almost 40 million blogs.
Ask.com claims its Ask Blogs & Feeds is "the most robust index of content on the Web," covering somewhere between 4 and 6 million new blog posts daily, for a total index of about 1.5 billion articles. Technorati claims to index 1.2 million new blog posts each day.
Just as Google's PageRank algorithm weighs Web links as votes to determine which Web pages best answer a search query, Ask Blogs & Feeds Search relies on another measure of collective wisdom to identify relevant blog posts--the subscription data submitted by the hundreds of thousands of Bloglines users. "It's a kind of automated spam filter," explains Rahul Lahiri, VP of search product management at Ask.com.
Some sort of blog spam filter is needed, to be sure. As of February, some 60% of the daily pings received by Technorati--notifications that a blog has been updated with a new post--were considered to be spam. And some 9% of new blogs are machine-generated spam blogs.
Ask Blogs & Feeds Search lets users query three distinct categories: blog posts, RSS feeds, and a selection of around 7,000 news sources. It allows queries to be sorted using additional criteria including date, popularity, or a combination of the two. This can be particularly useful for locating recent blog posts.
Ask.com is extending its Binoculars feature--which lets users view Web sites listed on the search results page in a preview window without leaving Ask.com--to its Blogs & Feeds Search. While undoubtedly convenient, this tool may also be controversial because it alleviates the need to visit a Web page to read blog posts or see posted pictures. And fewer visitors typically result in less ad revenue for Web site owners.
Bloglines' new In-Line Post Preview feature also offers the ability to view posts and associated images in their entirety, without visiting the publisher's site. Such complete copying of words and pictures from Web sites seems to invite a lawsuit for copyright infringement, but it's possible that being indexed and displayed online offers more value than legal restrictions that keep content cloistered.
At the same time, Ask is adding features that may help drive more traffic to blogs. The addition of "Subscribe" and "Post To" links to Ask's search results page should encourage searchers to sign up for more RSS feeds and to contribute more links to news aggregation services like Bloglines, Digg, and Newsvine.
Bloglines is gaining the ability to search within one's own feed subscriptions and the ability to search for citations of one's blog posts on other sites. There's also a new list of top Blogs & Feeds queries in the past hour for those who have to know what other bloggers have on their minds.