Unintentionally Blank

Phil Nash on the Internet, Web Standards and Accessibility

Google To Buy Feedburner? The Real Reasons

May 20, 2007

by Phil Nash

A buzz has gone around the Internet this weekend. Sure, Microsoft bought out an advertising firm for $6 billion, but a deal like that pales in significance when there is a rumour of Google making a purchase. The excitement is, of course, doubled when the company on the other end of the rumours is one of the blogosphere's favourites, FeedBurner. Vecosys reports that Google is to buy FeedBurner and Valleywag followed that up with the likely price tag of $100 million.

But why would Google do this? To revive contextual advertising within feeds, to integrate more data into Google analytics and tie bloggers and other publishers into the Google way even more? I think that both of these ideas, while incisive and probably true, forget what Google do, and want to continue doing, best. Search.

How FeedBurner Improves Search

A while back, I remember a number of reports on a Google patent for blog searching. This deal to purchase FeedBurner, the most popular way of counting your feed readership, reminded me of one of the methods Google planned to use to determine a quality score for a blog.

[0038] The popularity of the blog document may be a positive indication of the quality of that blog document. A number of news aggregator sites (commonly called "news readers" or "feed readers") exist where individuals can subscribe to a blog document (through its feed). Such aggregators store information describing how many individuals have subscribed to given blog documents. A blog document having a high number of subscriptions implies a higher quality for the blog document.

Alister Cameron, in a post for ProBlogger, asked, "How does Google know how many people are subscribed to your feed?" (See under the subtitle "A Key Indicator: Feed Readership.") His answer was Google Reader, it does have a large share in the reader market and could be used to accurately guess the readership of most blogs. Google is not one for half measures or guessing though, which brings us to FeedBurner. With FeedBurner's stats, Google can tell the approximate readership of all blogs that use the service. Along with their patent, this sounds like a recipe for better, more relevant, higher authority search results in Google's blog search.

Only a few months ago, Google passed Technorati as the top blog search engine, but, as I say above, Google is not one for half measures. Improving the quality of blog search further could take more users from Technorati, further encapsulating the general Internet public in the Google experience, giving them even more influence.

So It's Not About Feed Advertising

A number of comments on the proposed take over that I have read, mention the poor showing of RSS adverts so far, the lack of serious profit that FeedBurner are making compared to the buyout price and the previous failure of Google's feed adverts. I am not saying that Google will drop the chance to encourage the take up of feed advertising in order to extend the reach of AdWords yet again, but to assume that is the only reason they are interested in FeedBurner is rather shortsighted. Fulfilling their blog search patent, improving search yet again and ultimately attracting even more users will serve to increase revenues even more in the long run.

Buying FeedBurner for the relatively cheap price of $100 million seems like a fantastic idea for Google, for feed advertising and for blog search. Let's see if this rumour and speculation is true.

Unintentionally Blank is Phil Nash's thoughts on web development from 2006-2008. Any code or opinions may be out of date.