In the past few hours, Google apparently updated its database and moved blogs way, way down the list of search results. First Atrios mentioned it and thought it strange, and then Sisyphus Shrugged found it had happened to her. That prompted me to google my own site, and it's true for me, too: this blog was the first search result for "Fables of the reconstruction" and the third (I recall) for "Mithras" until now. Now, it is the 53rd result for "Fables of the reconstruction" and does not appear at all in the first 200 results for "Mithras" (although, strangely, my profiles on other websites do show up in those results.)
Strangely, this blog still has a google pagerank of 5 (out of 10), which is google's numerical way of denoting importance.
We'll see how this shakes out. But if it persists, this is very bad news for blogs. I have written elsewhere that blogs are only an important phenomenon (important other than for the intrinsic satisfaction of writing) to the extent that search engines prioritize blogs. There are, by my estimate, only about 500,000 people who actively search out political and current events blogs. That number is not likely to grow much; all of the people who are likely to take an active interest have had a chance to join us by now. While not nothing, such a number is quite small in cultural terms. What makes blogging potentially culturally relevant is being indexed by search engines. Until today, if you googled any topic of current interest, the first page of results included blogs. That made blogs relevant to general internet users, but much more importantly, it made blogs vital for journalists researching stories. The prominent placement of blogs in google search results meant that bloggers, rightly or wrongly, were paid attention to. It also meant that blogs occupied valuable internet real estate that attracts advertising revenue.
Take search engines away, and the entire enterprise dries up. No google hits, no blogs. It's that simple.
As I said, we'll see how this shakes out.
Update 2/16/05: Moved up from comments:
Before this change, googling "Fables of the reconstruction" returned this blog as the first result. When I wrote this post, it had fallen to 53. Well, now it's not in the first 200 results, which is where I stop looking. Links to this blog and comments I have left on other blogs rank higher than the blog itself.
I don't know what google did, but I have to say, it seems fucked up.
Update 2/18/05: Based on a completely unscientific, nonrandom sample, it appears that this affects blogs that use their blogging software's domain, such as typepad.com, blogs.com and blogspot.com. Blogs with their own domains do not appear to be affected. What this means, I can only speculate, and I am down with the flu today so I am not going to research it.