How the Weblog World Listens

A point that was driven home (for me at least) at the Northern Voice blog conference was that the weblog world is often thought of as “a million voices�?, but it is actually a million *listeners*. The blog world thrives on speedy access to the voices, opinions and people that are making the new form of news.

How does this happen? What enables a blogger to hear so well? Why can bloggers listen better than others?

The primary culprit of this new ability to listen is RSS and the use of RSS readers. I’ve written about RSS before and will not focus on it here. RSS is an enabler of the tools I will discuss below and having a basic understanding is a prerequisite for the discussion below. See: RSS Described in Plain English.

Below I’ll describe (in plain English) three sites (among many) that enable the weblog world to listen so well.

  • Technorati
  • PubSub
  • Feedster


A consistent theme in the weblog world is linking. If you visit a weblog, you’re likely to see many examples of a blog saying “Nancy White has written an interesting piece…�? with “an interesting piece�? being a hyperlink that leads to an entry on Nancy's blog.

This is called “linking behavior�? and it creates a web of links across the weblog world. Technorati tracks these links between web sites. By tracking the links, Technorati can offer a weblogger something valuable – a look at the sites currently linking to a single page or website.

For instance, this site is a weblog. I go to Technorati on a regular basis and look for the sites that have linked to Common recently. Technorati gives me context for understanding what the world thinks about my site, based on links to it. It makes the invisible links visible (or the silent voices heard, as it were)


PubSub uses a similar idea, but not based solely on links. PubSub works with RSS and monitors all the words that are flowing from sites that publish using RSS. When I publish this article, PubSub will track each word.

Because it tracks the words, it enables users to be notified when a specific word or phrase is published to the web. Pub Sub is only concerned with the newly published words, not the words already archived on web sites. It is a “matching service�? for words and newly published information.

For instance, I use PubSub to track when my name is published to the web. Any time that a site mentions “Lee LeFever�? in the text of a post, it's posted on the PubSub site and I get a notification. If I were interested in antique pianos, I could have PubSub notify me whenever the words “antique piano�? are posted to the web enabling me to go directly to a post that may interest me.

PubSub enables bloggers to listen to the emergent information being posted to the web based on very specific words and phrases- as soon as they are published.


Feedster is also based on RSS, but is a search engine (as opposed to a matching service). Feedster looks at all the RSS feeds and indexes them for searching. When I publish this entry, Feedster will archive it so that it can be found with a search for something like “Weblog World Listens�?.

Feedster is useful for finding the *newest* information being published to the web. Since it’s based on RSS, it can return results minutes after a new story has been published.

Let’s say a news event happens, like today’s story: “Google Releases Google Movies�?. Feedster enables me to go see what the world has to say about that, in close-to real time. Feedster enables me to listen to the news as it’s being created by the blog world, or any news source with an RSS feed.

Why This Matters:

In the blog world, as in traditional journalism, information has a shelf life. Yesterday’s news is, well, yesterday’s news. Successful bloggers use these tools and many others to listen to the world and translate the emerging information into their own form of news on their blogs, which, in turn, add to the news.

RSS was a blogger tool, but is quickly becoming a standard on the web. News sources of all sorts will not be able to survive without RSS feeds because a growing number of people will depend on it, and the tools above, as a more timely and relevant resource for news and information.

In a related story, I heard that the Associated Press has just added RSS feeds. Want to guess how I found that link in about 5 seconds? Feedster.

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