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February 15, 2003
Google Buys Pyra: Blogging Goes Big-Time
posted by Dan Gillmor 07:41 PM
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Weblogs are going Googling.

Google, which runs the Web's premier search site, has purchased Pyra Labs, a San Francisco company that created some of the earliest technology for writing weblogs, the increasingly popular personal and opinion journals.

The buyout is a huge boost to an enormously diverse genre of online publishing that has begun to change the equations of online news and information. Weblogs are frequently updated, with items appearing in reverse chronological order (the most recent postings appear first). Typically they include links to other pages on the Internet, and the topics range from technology to politics to just about anything you can name. Many weblogs invite feedback through discussion postings, and weblogs often point to other weblogs in an ecosystem of news, opinions and ideas.

"I couldn't be more excited about this," said Evan Williams, founder of Pyra, a company that has had its share of struggles. He wouldn't discuss terms of the deal, which he said was signed on Thursday, when we spoke Saturday. But he did say it gives Pyra the "resources to build on the vision I've been working on for years."

Part of that vision, shared by other blogging pioneers, has been to help democratize the creation and flow of news in a world where giant companies control so much of what most people see, hear and read. Weblogs are also becoming a valuable communication tool for groups of people, and have begun to infiltrate the corporate, university and government spheres.

Just three and a half years old, Pyra's Blogger software has 1.1 million registered users, Williams said. He estimated that about 200,000 of them are actively running weblogs. Pyra charges for some higher-capability services not available in the base configuration, but most of its registered users don't pay.

Google is known best for its search capabilities, but the Pyra buyout isn't the company's first foray into creating or buying Internet content. Two years ago Google bought Deja.com, a company that had collected and continued to update Usenet "newsgroups," Internet discussion forums. More recently, it created Google News, a site that gauges the collective thoughts of more than 4,000 news sites on the Net.

But now Google will surge to the forefront of what David Krane, the company's director of corporate communications, called "a global self-publishing phenomenon that connects Internet users with dynamic, diverse points of view while also enabling comment and participation."

"We're thrilled about the many synergies and future opportunities between our two companies," he said in a statement on Saturday. He didn't elaborate further on what those synergies and opportunities might be, but said more details would emerge soon. Users of the Blogger software and hosting service won't see any immediate changes, he added.

For Williams and his five co-workers, now Google employees, the immediate impact will be to put their blog-hosting service, called Blog*Spot, on the vast network of server computers Google operates. This will make the service more reliable and robust.

How Google manages the Blogger software and Pyra's hosting service may present some tricky issues. The search side of Google indexes weblogs from all of the major blogging platforms, including Movable Type and Userland Radio. Any hint of proprietary favoritism would meet harsh criticism.

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.

Major technology companies are seeing the potential. Tripod, the consumer web-publishing unit of Terra Lycos, recently introduced a "Blog Builder" tool. America Online is expected to do something similar, and no one will be surprised if Yahoo and Microsoft do the same. Are more buyouts of blog toolmakers in the offing?

Developers of blogging software have been finding user-friendly ways to help readers of weblogs and other information find and collect material from a variety of sites. It's in this arena that the Google-Pyra deal may have the most implications.

More than most Web companies, Google has grasped the distributed nature of the online world, and has seen that the real power of cyberspace is in what we create collectively. We are beginning to see that power brought to bear.

UPDATE:

Well, this is racing around the blogosphere, as you might expect. Here's some of the commentary.

  • First and foremost, here's Evan's posting about the deal on his personal blog.
  • Cory Doctorow's analysis (thanks for the kind words, Cory...blush) strikes me as dead-on.
  • Weblog pioneer Dave Winer hints (I think) about more such deals and hopes Google will do the right thing by the overall blog community. Me, too.
  • Ben and Mena Trott, of Movable Type fame, offer some ideas on what Google hopes to gain from the deal.
  • Meg Hourihan has kind words.
  • Nick Denton asks: "Will Google use weblog links to improve Google News?" I asked Google's spokesman roughly the same question, but got no answer. Stay tuned, he said, because the company is just starting to figure out how it's going to use this stuff.
  • Anil Dash doubts that it's a good fit.
  • Rick Bruner calls it an excellent fit.
  • Azeem Azhar envisions (among other things) an interesting media play.
  • Shelley Powers sees centralization of data, not just search.
  • Jeff Jarvis thinks Google is too smart to play favorites in blog searches. Note: Jeff's company was an investor in Pyra; smart folks.
  • David Weinberger suggests that Google must now show it isn't a stupid big company. Yes.
  • Matt Webb thinks Google is building Memex.
  • Chinese bloggers discuss the news, in Chinese, of course.
  • Jonathan Peterson suspects VCs are getting hungry about now.
  • Metafilter thread.
  • Slashdot thread.
  • Henry Copeland is sure Dave Winer will win this Long Bet.
  • Mitch Ratcliffe remembers a conversation last fall when Google's Sergey Brin asked all kinds of good questions about blogging. I have a feeling that lunch table will be a footnote in the official history of blogging; it'll certainly be in the book I'm working on...