ITI NewsBreak

Blooglelicious—the Buzz about Google Buying Pyra Labs
by David Mattison

February 24, 2003 — On Feb. 13, 2003, Google quietly purchased Pyra Labs. The news has blogging pundits and search industry analysts abuzz with speculation about what this signals. Pyra Labs, a San Francisco company founded in early 1999 by Evan (Ev) Williams, only a few months after Google, Inc. launched, created the most popular, free Web site creation and hosting service for those who blog: and

Williams revealed the news to journalist Dan Gillmor, who posted the story on Feb. 15 at his eJournal Weblog ( Williams, without disclosing the financial terms, confirmed the acquisition 24 hours later in Evhead, his personal blog ( He called this event, a few months in planning, a “dream scenario”: taking his five employees with him, and “to continue working on Blogger, but to have access to these amazing resources (not just money, and servers, and bandwidth, and traffic, and the index, but incredible brains).”

For those Blogger and Blogger Pro users who actively maintain their blogs, Williams promised: “great things, I believe. We're going to be mapping out more clearly what that means and talking about it soon. We don't mean to be mysterious about that. We just haven't had time to put it all together yet.” He further reassured his customers with a post dated Feb. 17 on’s front page: “No immediate changes will take place, except we're working furiously to get more servers in place to handle the extra load this news has caused.”

Google was less forthcoming about its reasons and plans for buying the six-person company that boasts over one million registered users. Google’s David Krane, director, corporate communications, sent me and other inquiring minds the following terse statement, with a promise of more to follow in the coming weeks: “Google recently acquired Pyra Labs, developers of Blogger—a self-service weblog publishing tool used by more than one million people. We're thrilled about the many synergies and future opportunities between our two companies. Blogs are a global self-publishing phenomenon that connect Internet users with dynamic, diverse points of view while also enabling comment and participation. In the coming weeks, we will report additional details. Blogger users can expect to see no immediate changes to the service.”

A blog or Weblog refers both to a type of Web site, and the act or art of creating content for the site. A blogger is someone who blogs for personal and/or work-related reasons. In the latter category are several important information industry and library blogs, as well as blogs maintained by journalists and investigatory writers. Although blogs trace their lineage back to the “what’s new” pages from the first days of the public Web a decade ago, according to Rebecca Blood’s “Weblogs: A History and Perspective” (, blogging as a communication medium with specific characteristics only emerged late in 1997.

Most blogs bear these basic design and navigational hallmarks: individual posts or entries, usually fairly short, are displayed in reverse chronological order (newest to oldest); a permanent link to an “archive” version of each post usually appears at the end of each entry and is stored in a separate location on the Web server; content may be exported (syndicated) in one of two different RSS (Rich Site Summary) formats; automatic connections between blogs can be enabled (referer links); and items may be published or organized into some kind of topical or subject-based category system devised by the blogger.

Some blog authoring applications, most often accessed from within a Web browser, also include the ability to subscribe to or aggregate RSS content, and seamlessly transfer that content to a blog post. The process of making a blog entry visible on a private or public Web site by transferring it to the hosting service is called publishing. and other blog authoring tools include keyword-based search engines that may not be available with a free hosting service. Third-party search engines can easily be added to most hosted blogs. One of the reasons for the Google purchase, therefore, may be to enhance the search mechanism of (the authoring tool itself), and to offer specialized Google search methods for the subscription-based Blogger Pro service (

The use of blogs for investigatory writing captured the traditional media’s attention over the past year (just over 25 articles in the New York Times alone in 2002 mention the word Weblog). One need only search Google News for “google buys pyra” for plenty of reactions from high-profile media outlets, such as Reuters, Washington Post, Forbes, MSNBC, ABC News, and many international sources.

Gillmor wrote in his eJournal blog on the Google investment that: “Blogging was moving mainstream even before this buyout. Several weblogs draw a large readership, and bloggers demonstrated their collective power to keep an issue alive even when the traditional media miss the story, as former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott discovered to his dismay late last year.”

Chris Sherman, associate editor of Search Engine Watch, observed in a SearchDay issue that so-called disruptive technologies, such as online discussion forums and blogs, may report events, such as the tragic loss of the Columbia and her crew, before traditional media outlets break the news (

Google is not the only search engine player to begin realigning its business towards blog-based content. Terra Lycos, the owners of Lycos and, unveiled its premium Blog Builder tool in early February 2003 ( The company promises a pared-down free version in the future. Speculation is that Yahoo and even Microsoft might follow suit.

Initial reactions to Google’s purchase by the blogging and online discussion forum communities range from puzzlement to cautious pessimism to thoughtful (and wild) analyses of what’s in store for bloggers, not just those who use, and for users who count on Google’s various services for their work and recreational information needs. For a sampling of opinions, see the end of Gillmor’s eJournal entry on the purchase (

Cory Doctorow, the lead author of Essential Blogging (O’Reilly, 2002), wrote in Boing Boing on Feb. 16 that: “The metadata that can be extracted from blogs—trackbacks, blogrolls, interlinks, RSS—provide a very rich field for researchers. Sociologists, marketers, journalists, publishers and anthropologists are all thrilled to have this ready-to-hand source of quantifiable data about how information propagates, and what it all means. Google's made a business out of this sort of research. Its PageRank algorithm is the best idea-diffusion-miner we've got right now, and in hindsight, Google's move into blogs seems inevitable.” (

With hundreds of thousands of blogs out there, filtering for content meaningful to the blog reader is a daunting task. So perhaps that is what this is all about in the end, that Google and its adventurous management just love a good content-driven challenge for their secret search algorithm.

David Mattison is a reference archivist with the British Columbia Archives in Canada, and the author of “So You Want to Start a Syndicated Revolution: RSS News Blogging for Searchers” (Searcher, February 2003). His e-mail address is His personal Weblog is The Ten Thousand Year Blog

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