Thursday, January 21, 2010

Google trouble: Blogger and Search

Google’s getting a lot of flack for a less than spectacular launch of the gPhone (Nexus One). I’m not too worried about that, I think they’ll get it working. I’m also still optimistic about the Chrome OS netbook – though if it costs over $200 I’ve got yet another public mea culpa waiting.

On the other tentacle, I am getting bad feelings about two Google services I have long relied on – Search and Blogger. I think the problems may be related.

Blogger is the proverbial coal mine canary. It is clearly not thriving. There’s still no iPhone or DROID app for posting or editing, there’s an undocumented and unfixed 5000 post limit, there’s no mobile-optimized version of blog pages, the BlogThis bookmarklet was never updated to support categories, the rich text editor has many longstanding bugs, there’s no spam detection on comments, the Blogger in Draft blog was silent from Nov 28 through Jan 20 (yesterday!) and so on.

Why isn’t Google investing in Blogger? My best guess would be some mix of

  • Inability to manage Blogger spam blogs (splogs)
  • High success rate of search index poisoning comment spam
  • High rate of click fraud related to Blog associated adwords
  • Low rate of revenue from Blogger adwords
  • Declining readership numbers
  • Failure of the confusing “Follower” and Google Reader note/comment programs
  • Confusion from the rise of Twitter (confuses me too) and Facebook

Several items on my speculative list implicate search index poisoning problems. These “Search engine optimization” scams degrade search results, which leads to a spiral of click fraud and declining ad word revenue.

Which brings me to the bigger Google problem. The quality of the search results is deteriorating. On technical topics that I search on, I’m getting a large number of junk web sites. I have to use my Google custom searches to find good results. When I search on hard-to-find answers that I know I’ve addressed in my own ad-free tech blog, I don’t get any useful hits at all. It’s not just that I don’t find my marvelous stuff – I don’t find any answers anywhere.

In several instances, Bing has done better. In particular, Bing seems to find fewer splogs and fraudulent ad-heavy pages – perhaps because the scummy SEO gang is still optimizing for Google. (Bing’s time will come.)

Google is only as good as their search engine, and that engine is under relentless attack from the same emergent attacks that killed usenet and severely wounded email. At the moment, the parasites are winning – and threatening to kill their current host.

Google needs a winning response. They’ve got bigger problems than lousy phone service.

Update 1/21/10: See comments for a response from one of Bloggers Product Managers, it's an encouraging rebuttal. Per that comment I corrected the name of the Blogger in Draft blog; the official Blogger blog is


Unknown said...

Hi John - I'm a PM on Blogger, and I hope I can convince you that we're investing heavily in Blogger (and have been for some time!). First, a few clarifications:

* the official Blogger blog is; the Blogger in Draft blog you pointed to is used for announcements specific to our "labs" version of Blogger, where we test out new stuff.
* there is an iPhone app that works quite well for Blogger, was released for free in the app store to help us commemorate our 10th birthday in August: While we don't have an official Android app yet, we are working on one and hope to have news on that front within the next few months.
* The 5k post limit is simply for display in your blog's dashboard - there is no limit on how many posts any blog can have.
* There is a new text editor available on (available under settings) which is the default on Blogger in Draft. It significantly improves the authoring interface, addresses a number of the issues you referred to, and opens up a number of integration opportunities for us with other Google properties - we're doing QA on the next batch of integrations right now.
* I'm not aware of any click fraud problems specific to Blogger, nor are we concerned about low revenues - in fact, revenues hit an all-time high in 2009, significantly growing above previous years' totals.
* declining readership: I won't bore you with all the details (if you want a more in-depth account, Louis Gray's post covering a presentation I gave last fall is here:, but Blogger had more blogs, more authors, more posts, and more readers than in any year in its 10 year history. And each of those categories grew more in real numbers than they had in any prior year.

Now to the larger questions:

* Spam. Historically, spam content on Blogger *was* an issue, but we've invested heavily in this area and are increasing that investment in 2010. The % of pageviews on Blogger that we believe to be spam is now consistently below 5% - in the past it was in the double digits. We incorporate signals from a number of sources (internal and external) to ID spam blogs, and scan all new posts for spammy activity. We're not perfect yet, but we're significantly better than we've been.
* Comment spam. This is an area I share your frustration on (everyone on the team does, in fact) and something that we will be fixing quickly. Don't have a date yet but expect to soon - it's one of the team's top priorities this quarter.

As regards the search quality issues you raise, my experience is different than yours but I'll admit to a bias. :)

Please let me know if you have any other concerns about Blogger. I appreciate your support, and the opportunity to share some of the info about our growth and focus for the upcoming year. Keep in touch, and thanks for using Blogger!

--Rick Klau
rklau -at-

JGF said...

Great comments, much appreciated. I am obviously a blogger fan and I'd pay $50+ a year to keep my blogs going so it's good to hear some reassuring news. I think you ought to turn your comment into a Blogger Buzz post. I can't be the only concerned user.

Thanks for the blog correction. I subscribe to over 30 Google blogs, so its weird I didn't have this one. I swear I used to subscribe to it; it's reasonably active.

I'm relieved to learn revenues are growing, though that's not the same as saying they're satisfactory by Google standards. Growing is not the same as making targets.

The iPhone app got such bad initial reviews I dismissed and forgot it, but I'll take another look.

I wouldn't use the word "simply" to describe the undocumented 5000 post bug/limit. It's a royal pain for me.

I've tried the blogger in draft text editor many times, only to have horrible results when updating a blog post after initial publication. I'll cautiously try again, but Blogger in Draft Rich Text editor bugs have burned me.

Great news on the splog detection and pending comment spam fixes.

In noticed you didn't say anything nice about "BlogThis!". I'd love to have comments with that bookmarklet.


JGF said...

Oops. That should have been "Labels with that bookmarklet" not "Comments with that bookmarklet".

Unknown said...

John - Glad the comment was helpful, and that's a good idea about doing a variation of that as a blog post. I'll give that some thought.

Re: revenues. For obvious reasons I don't disclose actual numbers, but all the feedback I'm getting from senior execs on down is that we're exceeding expectations. Last year was the first year we made a concentrated effort to grow the business side of Blogger and it had tremendous results. This year looks to be even better (see the Amazon partnership as one example of what we're up to:

Odd to hear about formatting problems with Draft's editor - it's pretty rock solid. Please ping me with any indications of what you're seeing - that's almost certainly a bug that we'll want to fix if it persists.

You're right, the Blog This! bookmarklet is definitely showing its age. It's on our list to get to, but not the highest priority (yet).

JGF said...

I'll update you on the editor. As I recall it came up when I edited using Safari on OS X, then revised using Firefox on XP. It was the old CR/LF, LF/CR problem -- made quite a mess of things.

Throwing WLW into the editing mix didn't help either.

Since I'd mysteriously lost my Google Reader blogger subscription I might have missed the Amazon announcement. I'll reread it.

Personally I'm not interested in making money myself from the blog. I do, however, want Google to make money from blogger so it continues to thrive and improve. So if you do write an update post, i'd be interested in knowing what I can do to increase Google's revenue from my blogs -- even if it doesn't earn me anything.

I'm delighted with Google's work on integrated translation services by the way. That's the next big frontier in blog authoring and reading -- cross-language.

Andrew W said...

I can't shake the notion that Blogger is the AOL of blog sites.

Otherwise, I'm quite happy with Wordpress's offerings. And it's nice that Google doesn't own *everything*.

JGF said...

The AOL comparison does sting!

On balance Blogger has been good to me, though if I were starting again I'd go with Wordpress. That wasn't an option back in the day.

I'm hopeful Google will keep it alive -- esp. since Rick tells us that the revenue picture is encouraging.

JGF said...

I did try the new rich text editor in, and it still has trouble with line spacing in OS X.

JGF said...

I've posted an example of the line spacing bug in the new blogger rich text editor. I'll send it to Rick too:

Blue Tyson said...

The 5000 post limit is not just a 'display' issue.

It means you can't search or browse for a post to edit one past that in the editor.

You also cannot export a blog with more than 5000 entries.

Far from telling you the whole story there.