15 February 2006

Can Google Measure up to Technorati?

Google has acquired Measure Map, a service that tracks visitors and links to blogs. This is of double interest to me.

First, because like all that pathetic crew known to the wider world as bloggers, I am hopelessly addicted to learning who has visited and linked to my blog (this sad human need will surely form the basis of several killer business applications - if only I could think of them...).

This acquisition places another company offering similar services, Technorati, squarely in Google's sights. It also makes Technorati rather more desirable to Google's rivals - no names, no pack drill, but you know who you are. Which brings me neatly to the second reason why this move is of interest to me, since I have an interview with Technorati's founder and CEO, Dave Sifry, in the Guardian today, which touches on many of these points.

I first interviewed Dave some six years ago, when I was writing Rebel Code. At that time, he was riding the dotcom wave with his earlier company, Linuxcare. This had come up with the wizard idea of offering third-party support for all the main open source programs that were widely used in business at the time. As a result, it had mopped up just about every top hacker outside the Linux kernel - people like Andrew Tridgell, the creator of Samba, a program that allows GNU/Linux machines to interoperate with Windows networks by acting as a file and printer server.

There is a certain irony in the fact that Google will now be a competitor to Sifry's Technorati, since in two important respects Linuxcare anticipated a key Google practice: mopping up those hackers, and then encouraging them to work on ancillary projects on company time.

Sifry's explanation back in 2000 of the logic behind this approach throws some interesting light on Google's adoption of the idea:

Number one, it encourages us to get the best developers in the world. When you are actually telling people, hey, I want you to work on open source software while you're at work, , that is pretty unique. And then once you get some [of the best coders], you end up getting more. Because everybody wants to work with the best people. Number two is, the more good open source software that's out there, the more people who are using open source software [there are]. And guess what, that means the more people who are going to need the services of a company like Linuxcare. Number three, when you encourage people to work on open source software while they're at work, you end up getting leaders and teams of open source engineers who now work for your company. And then lastly, but by no means least, it's great PR.

It was good to talk to Dave again, because I found that he hadn't really changed from the lively, enthusiastic, generous individual I'd discovered those years ago. It was particularly good to find that success - as I say in my Guardian piece, Technorati is either going to be bought by someone for lots of money, or make lots of money with an IPO soon - hasn't changed any of that.

More conclusive proof, if any were needed, that free software really is good for the soul.

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