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Blogging’s too good for them

Paul Carr Monday June 9, 2003 The Guardian

Walking through the streets of Blogistan this week, I couldn’t help noticing a certain tension in the air. The natives were restless. The saloon bars were abuzz with nervous chatter. And it wasn’t about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Something was most definitely up. But what? And who was this Eric Schmidt fellow that everyone was talking about? And why did I seem to be the only person in the world without his own weblog? Questions, questions.

Well it turns out that Schmidt is the CEO of Google (who knew?) and, if rumours are to be believed, he has plans to move weblogs out of the search engine’s main index and into a separate, less highly trafficked directory. What an absolute cad. Or at least he would be if the rumours weren’t just speculation – the result of an enthusiastic leap of blogic by IT news site the Register, who suggested that when Google launches its new weblog search tool, it may also decide to purge bloggers from its main database. Possibly.

No need for ordinary Blogistanis to panic just yet then – but the rumours did give internet experts an excuse to get all het up about the undue prominence of weblogs in Google search results. No matter what you search for – celebrity gossip, weapons of mass destruction, insect recipes, donkey porn – you can bet your bottom dollar that above the research papers and official news sources you’ll find a load of bloggers putting in their two pennyworth.

“Foul!” cry the blogger haters, “these two-bit amateur diarists are taking over the internet – it’s time we shoved them off into their own search engine, where they can do no more harm.” Just imagine… no more illiterate teenage wannabes clogging up the world’s most popular search engine with their idiotic “which Sex And The City character are you?” quizzes and incestuous links to their mates. No more American neo-Nazis babbling on about the Dixie Chicks and inciting racial hatred. No more tree-huggers talking about henna tattoos, home schooling and tofu. Just a list of proper sites full of proper information, written by proper journalists and proper academics. Fantastic. And if people want to hang out with Joe Blogs then fine, they can just click the appropriate tab and wallow until their brains turn to mush.

The only slight problem is that, despite what some commentators would have you believe, bloggers are not the scourge of the internet. In fact they are the internet. The whole point of the web was to allow anyone, regardless of budget or influence, to share information with the rest of the world. It certainly wasn’t supposed to be a giant electronic shopping mall or an interactive brand extension for major broadcasters and publishers.

Also, there seems to be an assumption that all weblogs are pointless, self-absorbed amateur journals that can be lumped together under a single search tab. This despite the fact that an increasing number of high-profile journalists and publishers are using weblog software as an easy and cost-effective way to deliver first-rate, original content to thousands – or even millions – of readers. Take Salam Pax, the Iraqi who has just been recruited by this newspaper on the strength of his wartime weblog.

While my favourite tabloid columnist, Tony “idiot” Parsons spent the conflict in front of his computer bashing out page after page of laddish nonsense for the Mirror’s unique readership of warmongering peaceniks, Salam was in Baghdad, using his blog to drive home the realities of war to a vast international audience. And yet, if the haters had their way Salam would be dragged off into the bloghetto while Parsons remained a free man. What kind of justice is that?

Do they really believe that it’s possible to separate the web into legitimate information sites (good) and weblogs (evil) or that by purging bloggers from Google, the internet will suddenly become more relevant and more useful? Not only is this hilariously simplistic but it’s also diverting attention from the real problem – that the web is drowning in a sea of crap, created partly by the less literate webloggers but also by biased media outlets, hate groups, pointless personal homepages, porn sites, multilevel marketers and out and out loons.

If Google really wants to improve its service then it should forget about trying to treat bloggers as one homogenous, problematic group and start developing intelligent search robots that are capable of separating the wheat from the chaff across the entire web. These robots should: a) look at the actual content of a site and decide whether the content is useful and worth reading, b) group it together with other relevant sites to give surfers a comprehensive overview of all the available information on whatever subject they’re interested in and c) ensure that these handy packages of links and information appear at the top of the search results, above all the unfiltered rubbish.

A utopian technological fantasy? Not really. In fact these robots already exist. They’re called webloggers. And without them Google’s index would be a much poorer place.

· Paul Carr is editor of The Friday Thing ( His new print publication, The London News Review, launches in August