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    The launch of Ask.coms own blog search engine last week has prompted me to look at what both Asks new offering brings to the blogosphere and also what Sphere offers, a search engine which I had not looked at previously here.

    There are already a number of players in the Blog Search Engine space, from specialist blog engines such as Technorati and IceRocket and blog search offerings from the main players in the general Search Engine market such as Google Blog Search. As such, the marketplace is already looking quite competitive as everyone looks for which features to offer and how to go about differentiating themselves.

    So let’s have a brief look at what both Ask and Sphere are offering us in terms of search and functionality:

    ASK.com
    They call it their Blogs and Feeds search engine and they have teamed up with Bloglines to provide the information within it, there are three main tabs which return results for a general search, an RSS Feed search and a News Search.

    On the general search, you can search according to relevance, date or popularity, with the displayed results giving you the post title together with the author, name of the blog and a short description. It offers 4 options in terms of what you can do with the displayed results: you can preview the blog without leaving the search page by using their binocular feature; you can subscribe to the RSS feed and a drop down menu gives a choice of readers; you can also save the result to visit later which is a nice touch; and you can share the results by posting to del.icio.us, bloglines, digg etc.

    There is also a fully functioning advanced search option which allows you to search according to a number of different criteria such as title, author, description etc and by specific time frames. As Ask.com has created this is conjunction with Bloglines, so the RSS feeds are ranked according to Bloglines subscription data not entirely fair but it is difficult to rank RSS Feeds so I guess it has to be done somehow.

    Sphere
    Sphere runs their own Search Engine and the initial interface reminds me of a mixture of Google and Technorati, which I guess is where some of the inspiration will have come from.

    Probably the main stand out feature for the search is that there is a deal of flexibility open to you in terms of the time scales being searched, although this is only available once you have your initial search results which defaults to the last day guess that shows just how much information is now posted on blogs! You can choose to look at the last week, 4 months or choose a customised range of your choice with a natty little graphic to do it with. On top of this you can choose to organise the results by relevance or time.

    They give a profile of the author of the Blog which contains average number of posts per week, links per post, last 3 links in and last three links out. The additional information link takes you to a page which recreates much of the same information together with the last three posts made. You can also subscribe to an RSS Feed of your results.

    As for the results between the two difficult to tell. Speed was good on both and I was more familiar with the results on Sphere to be honest but the functionality and hence flexibility on Ask seemed to have the edge.

    So, over to you – try them out and let me know what you think.

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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    Whether or not you are not actively participating in what is happening in the online environment which includes blogs, you should at the very least be aware of the conversations that are taking place and be listening to them. These conversations may be about your industry or the marketplace in which you operate, or more critically, they may directly impact your company or your brand.

    Whichever it is, you need to have a clear and up to date view of what is being said which then gives you the opportunity to participate in that conversation should you wish to. You may wish to monitor conversations from a PR point of view and so be able to actively respond to issues raised, or it might simply be for a type of “online press cuttings” to evaluate the feeling towards your company and brand in real time.

    There are a number of companies which have come to the market with offerings which allow you to monitor what is being said. Some, such as Market Sentinel offer a comprehensive range of services which are ideal for companies and/or brands getting hundreds or thousands of daily mentions. However, for those of us with more modest brands (and budgets) then there are some excellent tools on the internet which can help us in our monitoring and our research.

    • Technorati
      Technorati currently probably retains the general Bloggers vote for where to go for information on the blogosphere and with 38 million blogs monitored as of May, it can claim to have the most comprehensive list. You can sift information using Technoratis tags, your watchlists will deliver ongoing specific searches and you can keep your favourite blogs or bloggers tracked too.

    • PubSub
      PubSub is a predominantly a matching service which notifies you when new content is created that matches your requirements. It allows you to create an enquiry and then watches out for any new information that matches it it will then notify you when a match is made but updating your own personal feed. Really quick way of keeping up to date on an hour by hour basis.

    • BlogPulse
      BlogPulse is an automated system which allows you to identify and analyse trends across blogs. Effectively, it is a blog search engine which doesnt just give a snap shot at a moment in time but allows you to analyse and report on a particular topic over time. Special features include:
      Conversation Tracker: allows you to follow a discussion that starts with an individual blog post and then spreads across multiple blogs
      Blog Pulse Profiles: helps identify and analyse the activity and influence of some of the main profile blogs
      Trend Charts: to compare trends for 3 topics and see what is being written about.

    • Bloglines
      Bloglines is probably best known as the largest online RSS Reader and as such is an ideal place to start tracking what is happening in an industry. What is allows you to do is effectively create your own news page by searching out, subscribing to and sharing news feeds from blogs and other websites.

    All of these, and the others which already exists, are of course just tools to allow you to keep an eye open as to what is being said in real time. How you react to the information you gather is the next stage but by tapping into blogs you can at least be aware of what is going on.

    If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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