In many ways, Wednesday's release of an updated front page to Google Blog Search has put blog news tracking into the limelight. Google didn't get there first though. Sites like Techmeme, Blogrunner, and Technorati have been tracking the hottest blog posts for quite some time. Now's a good point to take a look at what makes these sites (and others) individual and different from Google's new tool.
Editor's note: this list is in no particular order.
In case you missed Wednesday's news, Google's new blog search tool organizes the biggest news and the sites that are breaking it. The service is entirely automated, and meant to be a quick way to figure out what's going on outside of mainstream media outlets--the sources that make their way onto Google's sister site, Google News.
Google Blog Search's core feature is that it shows you not only how many different blogs have written about a particular topic, but also within what period of time. It also blends in some of Google's trends prowess to show you how a story's prominence has increased or decreased by the hour.
To compare, let's start with Techmeme. Techmeme is a site run by Gabe Rivera, who has formulated a software-powered algorithm that automatically figures out which stories are hot and orders them accordingly. Items change throughout the day, with as much importance placed on who wrote the story and where it came from as the topic itself.
One of the things that makes Techmeme stand out from the rest is its speed. The service is constantly crawling thousands of news sources, and it promotes and demotes items depending on the day's story velocity. It's also updating its list of sources on a daily basis, so new sites that offer good coverage can rise in the ranks at a good clip.
Compared with Techmeme, the sources in Google Blog Search are weighted a bit differently. Google's taken it's "all of the Web!" approach here, which means you're going to see a lot of junk blogs that are likely taking content from elsewhere. As automated as Techmeme is, there's still some behind-the-scenes selection going on (via the software) that keeps those copycat blogs out of the mix. The same cannot be said for Google's current offerings, although that is likely to change.
One of the criticisms of Techmeme has been its recognition of who "broke" a story. The service's policy is to give an author a primary headline (instead of a relational link based on how many other blogs are linking to that post), combined with when it surfaced. The system is not perfect though--in cases where several publications release a post that's been embargoed things get fuzzy.
Also worth noting is that Techmeme is just one of four companion sites that use this same system for different topics. There's also celebrity gossip tracker WeSmirch; Memeorandum, which focuses on political news; and baseball news tracker Ballbug.
This story continues after the break. Keep reading for numbers 3-7, and which one you should use to track news.
Blogrunner is a news tracking service owned by The New York Times that gets its stories from both traditional news sources and blogs. What makes it interesting is that it uses both an automatic software-based algorithm and editorial choice to decide what's newsworthy.
There are 12 major news genres covered, although users can break down which kind of news they'd like to read by company name or topic. The topical breakdown here is one of the richest found on any service, although in comparison with Google's efforts you can accomplish something similar by simply searching for keywords and then sorting by date. Where Blogrunner tops that is in letting you know which of the related stories on a topic is the most high profile.
Newspond is one of the most recent additions to the blog-tracking world. The site launched in late February of this year and proclaims itself "the most advanced news site on the planet." Unlike any of the other sites mentioned in this roundup, Newspond is the one site that ends up reading like a blog. The service will select what it believes to be the top story and place any related stories hidden away. Someone can simply come back to the page throughout the day and see what's new.
Newspond's system for figuring out what's newsworthy is called buoyancy, which creates an aggregate ranking of how much mention a story has had within a certain amount of time. Any changes in how old a post is, or how many other blogs have reported on it, will affect that number, which is made plain to the user with an up and down percentage.
Two things make the site noteworthy compared with Google, Techmeme, and the others. The first is that Newspond will make a snapshot of the total rating of a story, which you can come back to later. The peak of its buoyancy will be saved forever, so if you're coming back to check in on a story six months later you can compare it with how newsworthy the same company or topic has become. The other notable thing is that Newspond also tracks forums alongside standard news sites and blogs. While the company does not disclose what percentage of its sources are forums, it's an interesting medium for breaking news.
5. Technorati Front page/Topics
Blog search engine Technorati was one of the first companies to attempt to organize the chaos of shifting through blog news. To an extent, the front page of Technorati is some semblance of this order. It lists the hottest stories by topic. It also one-ups most any of these systems by placing authority on a blog, meaning how popular it is with things like traffic, linking blogs, and mentions around the Web. More than any other system listed here, Technorati's is the one that lets you see how trustworthy a source is.
Like Techmeme and Google Blog Search, you can also drill down to see other sources that are have linked to or are related to the initial post. Again, what separate's Technorati's system is that you can see which of the related reaction blogs has clout of its own.
To complement the front page, the service also has a page called Topics, which launched in September of 2007. The service was designed to track big news as it comes in, much like Techmeme's river-of-news view. It's certainly not the best way to track what's important, but it does help feed the service's front page, and can be a good place to find breaking stories as they're happening.
Topix is another hybrid site that uses its own algorithm but throws in human-powered editorial control. Its robots scour the Web to place new or noteworthy stories on its various category pages. Users can also vie for said editorial spots to be able to reorganize what goes where. Of course this makes it a starkly different service than Techmeme, Google Blog Search, Technorati, and the rest.
Topix does one thing better than most of the other sites on this list, and that's in serving up localized news. It will figure out where you are and pick stories to create a special local news page. Unfortunately, this does not carry over to tech news, which makes the comparison a little murky.
Also worth noting is that Topix doesn't do as good a job as the other services at showing off related stories. They're usually relegated just to the right of a story, which you can't see without going to a special story page Topix has set up. In many cases, some major stories that I clicked on had no related stories at all, which was not the case on other tracking sites.
Megite is quite similar to Techmeme, although far less conservative when it comes to screen real estate. Many of the same top headlines found on Techmeme can be found here, although the service uses its own sources to track stories so there are frequently differences.
What makes the service a big standout is that in addition to written items, the service tracks video. These don't show up alongside the articles, but that would sure be neat. Considering the service tracks nearly 20 different categories, the video meme tracking section is all over the place with clips from the news, cartoons, and various video-hosting sites.
Compared with Google Blog Search, the big difference here is that search is nonexistent. Where Google's system can fall back on its top-of-the-line search, with Megite you're at the whim of what the tracker has put in front of you. It's not a bad thing, but it makes the service far less versatile.
So which one should you use?
All of these platforms offer an easy and convenient way to stay abreast of news from various blogs without having to do the dirty work of maintaining RSS feeds. Each one has its trade-offs though. Personally, I'm a fan of Techmeme, but that doesn't mean it's the best solution for everyone. It's lacking some of the content categories I'd like to see alongside my tech news items, and there's no option to filter in which topics you want more or less of.
Going forward, the ideal solution will be something that not only gives you the news fastest, but that also does a great job at showing you who broke the story and where the best posts are to help fill it out. I don't think any of these tools can handle the first part of that yet, but Techmeme, Megite, and Technorati are trying their best.