Finally, those religious stories my mother read me have some use. I read in Tech Crunch that Yahoo! launched their blog search tonight to join fellow Goliath partner Google in taking on all us little blog search start ups. Initial impression: it’s a hard UI to work through and the results aren’t comprehensive – as an example, do a search on surfing competition which only delivers 5 results, of which 4 have nothing to do with surfing, nor surfing competition. We’re launching our beta site next week, you can sign up for a beta account @ Sphere.

By the way, do we get two sling shots? Oops, my co-founder Steve reminded me that they didn’t have any elastic materials back then so it was just a sling. Anyway, can we get two of those?

Om wrote a nice piece on Sphere earlier today so I guess we’ve launched. We’ll be in private beta awhile, looking for feedback and figuring out a few new features that we’d like to get into the hands of blog readers. Here is a summary of Sphere:

What is Sphere?

Sphere is a new kind of blog search engine that uses an advanced algorithm to discover high–quality, relevant, and timely blog posts. It’s a very simple idea, but really hard to do. What makes us better than other blog search engines? Our new, advanced algorithm:

• discovers the most relevant blog posts as they’re created

• indexes a blog within minutes after it’s published

• applies rich semantic analysis

• makes blogs searchable by relevance or time

Plus, we’ve got a few helpful tools and features to make blog searching a richer experience.

 

Who is this company?

The three of us (Tony Conrad, Martin Remy, and Steve Nieker) founded Sphere because we believed we could build a better blog search engine. Along the way, we met with some angels with halos––Phil Black, Doug Mackenzie, Kevin Compton, Will Hearst, David Mahoney, Vince Vannelli, and Mike Winton––who wanted to support our vision. So we raised a little money to get started.

At Sphere, we’ve got a nice small team that met through a start–up company called Oddpost, a webmail and RSS aggregation provider, which was sold to a big company named Yahoo in July 2004. Back then, Tony was a lead investor at Oddpost, and Martin and Steve were helping the Oddpost team build contextual content matching technologies.

We’re also fortunate to have a couple of great bloggers and a former colleague as advisors: Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, a blog content tool leader; Mary Hodder, a blog thought leader and blog search user experience expert; and Toni Schneider, former CEO of Oddpost who now runs Yahoo’s Developer Network.

We are strong believers in the blogosphere and we hope Sphere, focused solely on user–generated blogs, will help readers explore it more effectively––and perhaps inspire more people to become bloggers.

 

You may wonder why in the heck we built this site when there are so many other blog search sites and one of them is Google?

The first part of that question is easy: We thought we could build a much better search engine to serve the rapidly growing blogosphere.

When we started building Sphere, there were around five million blogs. Nine months later, there were more than 18 million blogs. With so many people reading, writing, and commenting on blogs, finding high–quality, relevant content has become difficult. For a variety of complex technical reasons (such as an exclusive emphasis on freshness, or an overly simplistic computation of a blogger’s authority) other blog search services deliver less–than–satisfying results. Our new, advanced algorithm rapidly sorts through all blogs to find high–quality, relevant content that matches a blog search query.

The second part of that question (you know, the Google part) is a little bit harder to explain. Our corporate therapist hasn’t led us to the answer yet, but we think it’s because we saw firsthand through Oddpost that size doesn’t always matter. We like our product and hope you will, too. And who doesn’t love an underdog anyway?

 

Who needs Sphere?

Everybody, of course! Or, more specifically, two types of everybody:

• those who already use blog search engines, but are sick of the bad results and spam and wouldn’t mind a faster, more feature–rich user experience

• publishers who would like to integrate high–quality blog content into their websites

 

A good party on Friday night @ SOEX – starts early @ 5:00. Come check it out.

From Steve Rubel:

There’s always a lot of chatter about the number of blogs, but the stat to watch is daily posting volume since many abandon blogs after giving it a whirl. What’s even more interesting is that posting is highest during the workday, peaking between 10AM – 3PM Eastern time. Clearly millions of employers have bloggers in the midst and don’t even know it. Well, check out this chart.

There’s a new Google feature that lets you run queries like: Toni Schneider is ………

which tells us that Toni Schneider is not a woman.

Ah, Google, what would we do with out it?

It was and wasn’t planned but what a hoot. My friend Patrick Wolff, as planned, came for dinner and as I do too often, or maybe not often enough, I double booked the evening with an invitation to M@ Mullenweg to come by and help set up my new blog. A neighbor and his 12 year son, who competes in chess tournaments around the country, also joined us. An amazing collection of talent, ages and interests. Following dinner, Patrick played chess while M@ and I began fine-tuning my blog. Everyone crowded around Patrick. He’s a Grandmaster and has won two US championships (1992, 1995) – check out his web-site @ www.wolffchess.com - its got a cool interactive game situation demo. When the last game ended, everyone crowded around M@ (http://photomatt.net/) to watch his art unfold. What a treat. patrick playing chess as a kid

Over at AdTech last week there was a lot of buzz about rss and blogging. Seems as though a growing number of savvy marketers and advertising agencies have gotten hip to the opportunity that user generated content offers their products, services and brands. I’ve always believed that word of mouth advocacy is the most effective way to generate brand awareness, trial and cultivate perception. Nothing like a recommendation from a fellow human being to inspire curiosity and trust. Unfortunately, marketers are still playing it too close to the vest, afraid to truly “empower” consumers – that’s a term that makes me cringe, everyone talks about “consumer empowerment” but I see little evidence of that happening in a truly open environment. The trick is how do you provoke a dialogue in a positive direction. Here’s an example: a couple weeks ago the Music group Nine Inch Nails released their latest single, “The Hand That Feeds,” as a multi-track Garageband file for remixing by their fans. Trent Reznor, band leader Trent Reznor wrote:

green eyes, green shirt trent“For quite some time I’ve been interested in the idea of allowing you the ability to tinker around with my tracks – to create remixes, experiment, embellish or destroy what’s there. After spending some quality time sitting in hotel rooms on a press tour, it dawned on me that the technology now exists and is already in the hands of some of you. I got to work experimenting and came up with something I think you’ll enjoy. … Change the tempo. Add new loops. Chop up the vocals. Turn me into a woman. Replay the guitar. Anything you’d like. I gave this to my crew and band to test out and all work effectively stopped for a while – it’s fun to mess around with. I’ve now heard a country version of the track as well as an abstract Latin interpretation (thanks, Leo). There are some copyright issues involved, so read the notice that pops up. Giving this away is an experiment. I’m interested to see what comes of it, what issues are raised and what the results are. Have fun-Trent Reznor”

Wow, that is bold and smart too. Lets imagine apple or nike doing the same with their ad footage, music, logo – taking those digital brand assets and floating them to consumers who can in turn remix commercials, make their own or just play around with the brand in fun and interesting ways. Sure, some people may do unattractive things, but I’ll bet a majority of people will produce content that strengthens those brands. It’s hard to imagine because at the end of the day, consumer empowerment is a scarry proposition for brand conscious corporate America. But I think it shouldn’t be – I see this as an incredible opportunity to strengthen brand relationships with customers. It’s happening anyway – many of you saw the apple ipod commercial created by a southern california school teacher named George Masters – it’s slick, captures the ipod brand essence quite well and it’s from a fan who wants the whole world to know that he thinks the ipod is nothing short of excellent. apple logo My take away: it’s better to be proactive than reactive and I think this window of opportunity is narrow. If you’re apple, why not run a contest for the best user generated apple ad – the winning ad gets a $5 million media buy against it – image how many apple enthusiasts would participate and the impact on apple’s already fantastic brand image. Sure, while a handful of people might produce derogatory ads, the majority of participants will create imaginative content that reinforces their affinity with the brand. I believe the first brands to take a calculated risk will win big.