Thursday, July 20, 2006

Comments and searches

From time to time, someone who comments on a post will ask me a direct question, obviously in the hope that I will enter into a dialogue, perhaps through an entry of my own in the comments column, or perhaps via a further post.

The truth is, I very seldom respond. This is not out of any wish to be rude -- far from it. It's just that there are only so many hours in the day.

Bloggers adopt various policies in relation to comments on their blog, according to their temperament and circumstances. Some blogs, e.g. Terry Teachout's About Last Night, don't offer a commenting facility at all. And when you look at the number of things that TT packs into each day, that's hardly surprising. He wouldn't have time to read them, never mind respond.

Other bloggers have had unpleasant experiences with comments. Either they get swamped with spam, or commenters become violently abusive, or whatever, and they close the facility down.

At the other extreme, there are those bloggers who positively encourage comments, and willingly enter into a dialogue. This is what the standard textbooks on blogging recommend, particularly if they view blogs as a marketing tool. It's called involving the reader, or some such, and it's very much a Web 2.0 concept; the purpose is to encourage those who become involved in the dialogue to go out and buy whatever it is you're selling.

My comments policy is in between these two extremes. You are free to make comments, and I am certainly interested in reading them, but I don't, on the whole, get involved in any discussion. And so far, touch wood, I have not had to delete any comments on for legal reasons or any other.

I was prompted to write this post by the fact that one recent commenter asked me directly whether I had read Patrick White's novel Voss. And I knew that I had previously written a post about Voss, so I tried to find it.

As you know perfectly well, you try to find things on the internet by using a search engine. And if you're really clued up on these things, you already now that, the site which hosts this very blog what you are reading, is owned by Google. Furthermore, if you're really sharp-eyed, you will have noticed that, at the very top of the GOB page, in the blue band, there is a white box, with beside it the words SEARCH THIS BLOG.

So far so good. The blog is hosted by blogspot, which is owned by Google, and the Search This Blog facility is therefore powered by Google, and it ought to be absolutely infallible. Right?

Right. Only it isn't. The truth is, this facility absolutely sucks. It is very unreliable, gives you different results on different days, and infuriates me when I know perfectly well that I have previously written about a subject but the search engine tells me I haven't.

For instance: two minutes ago (just to recheck the position) I typed the word Voss into the Search box and pressed go. Result: nothing. I typed in "patrick white", in inverted commas, as per approved procedure, and still got nothing except Monday's post.

This happens a lot. So then I have to use plan B. I go to to the main Google search engine, on its own usual web page, type in "grumpy old bookman", "patrick white" and Voss, and I get 19 results, of which the second on the list is the one I want: a post written on 25 May 2004 and entitled Voss it all about then?

We now arrive, in a roundabout way, at a potentially useful piece of information. Suppose you feel inclined to write a comment on a post. You are very welcome. But if you are wondering, for instance, whether I have ever come across a writer called John Smith, or a web site called Brainwashing for Beginners, or whatever, your best course is not to ask me a direct question via a comment, for reasons explained above.

Your best course is to give the Search This Blog facility a quick try and see what comes up. And if you get nothing, you need not suppose that that is necessarily the end of the matter. You can always go to the main Google search engine, put in "grumpy old bookman" plus whatever you want to know about, and see what that throws up.

That process does, however, involve a considerable amount of time and effort. And if you decide that it really isn't worth the trouble then I can't say that I blame you.


Lazygal said...

I completely agree about the uselessness of the Blogger/Blogspot search engine - you'd think Google could fix that! It seems to pick up things only from the past few months, so anything older than, say, six months is "lost". It's a pain when you want to reference your own previous posts, or check out something someone else wrote.

Lee said...

And since I was the one who asked you about VOSS, I want to assure you that I actually did do a search of your blog first, but with no joy, so made the natural assumption that you had never posted about it. And it's new to me that the Blogger search engine is so unreliable, so I have learned something very useful, having used this facility before without questioning it.

Anonymous said...

I've been similarly maddened by the useless Google search. I've had better luck, though, with the Technorati search I put on my site. You might want to do that, too. The directions are here:

(I'm breaking up these URLs so they'll appear properly, so you'll have to remove the line break.)

You just have to add your own address and blog name in there. You may also have to claim your blog at Technorati to get the thing to start reading your posts. (I'm not sure if that's a sine qua non, but it's a good idea anyway.) Directions at Technorati, or there's a summary here:

Dave Lull said...

To limit a Google search to the GOB blog, after entering the search terms:

voss "patrick white"

enter this: