In a post (see Yes, Google does alert you to new blog finds) that rips my coverage to shreds and then goes on to question whether my objectivity has been compromised by some personal vendetta against Google, SearchEngineWatch.com blogger Danny Sullivan says that I got it all wrong when I asked Shouldn't Google Alerts include blogs.
First things first. Sullivan never bothered to call me before questioning the integrity of my coverage when, in referring to Google's blacklisting of journalists that work for CNET Networks, he wrote"Of course, Berlind probably wouldn't be so ticked it he hadn't been banned. " Had you called Mr. Sullivan, or if you've read anything I've written in my 15 years as a hi-tech journalist, you'd know that I've never and will never take vendors' personal treatment of me into consideration when writing about them. This is true in both respects. My coverage cannot be swayed to the positive by currying favor, nor can it be swayed to the negative by treating me negatively.
A journalist's number one responsibility is to serve his or her audience with coverage that's objective as possible. I'm not saying that I haven't made mistakes that may have inadvertently swayed the objectivity of a story in the wrong direction. But I've had vendors knowingly lie right to my face and even blacklist me personally. But, I've never treated their poor judgement as a ticket to abuse the trust of my readers. Mr. Sullivan, had you afforded me the opportunity to comment on the accusation the way I would have preferred to have gotten official comment from Google, I would have told you this in person. And, although you may still consider me suspect, your sucker-punch could have been counterbalanced by a quote from me.
As for Sullivan's explanation of why I was wrong about Google Alerts, I think the fact that he provides a workaround instead of factual evidence that I am wrong to ask the question I asked acutally supports my position. Instead of discussing Google Alerts, as I did, he discusses Google's new blog search and how to set it up to satisfy my needs. So, let me fall back to the original facts, and the original question.
Google as something called Google Alerts. As can be seen from the screenshot in my original blog, I have it configured to alert me to any news or Web item with the word "Vista" in it as those items "happen." I take this to mean, as those items are posted to the Web (I don't know what else "happen" could mean). Right now, I can use any one of the blog search engines (Google's, Technorati's, BlogPulse's, BlogLines, etc.) and they will surface hundreds of blog entries about Windows Vista that my Google Alert is not turning up. The implication is that blogs are a part of neither category that Google Alert says it can watch for me: News and the Web. Not that I agree (it's the subject of huge debate), but I understand the reasons that a search engine company might fall on the side of saying blogs are not news. But, there's just no way anyone can say that they're not part of the Web.
Although it isn't phrased as an excuse for Google Alert's failure, Sullivan delves into an explanation of how rankings play a role and that blogs actually do turn up in Web searches. Indeed, questoin #2 of the Google Alert FAQ says:
Q. What's the difference between 'News,' 'Web,' 'News & Web' and 'Groups'?
A. 'News' alert is an email that lets you know if new articles make it into the top ten results of your Google News search. A 'Web' alert is an email that lets you know if new web pages appear in the top twenty results for your Google Web search. A 'News & Web' alert is an email that lets you know when new articles related to your search term make it into the top ten results for a Google News search or the top twenty results for a Google Web search. A 'Groups' alert is an email that lets you know if new posts make it into the top fifty results of your Google Groups search.
I don't know much about ranking algorithms. But, I have a difficult time understanding how I can be alerted to something "as it happens" if that something has to get ranked by an alogorithm first. In Sullivan's words, some blogs "have supernatural ranking powers that can push ordinary web pages aside in Google web search." Thanks but no thanks. I'm not looking for the bloggers that have figured out how to manipulate search engines. I'm looking for the ones with the most interesting things to say about Vista (including ones that work at Microsoft). So, the pages I actually want to see are probably the unranked ones. At the very least, this should be a configurable item (like a checkbox that says "filter results based on Google's rankings").
Finally, thanks to Dave Winer for backing me up on both fronts (the accuracy of what I wrote and the unfairness of Sullivan's condescending tone).
[Update: Sullivan has issued an apology for his post. The apology is of course accepted. Thank you Danny.]