David vs. Goliath
Software steamroller Microsoft has perfected the art of instilling fear into competitors. Just the mere mention of a move into a specific niche would send a bevy of startups scurrying for cover. And then would come the rationalizations: "Microsoft's entry into our field will raise all boats," "they're not really competing with us," etcetera.
Now folks in the online search and research realm feel the same way about Google, the cool hipster search king that brought hives to every journalist just by launching -- in beta -- a news service "without human intervention."
How much of a Midas touch does Google wield? Google News -- still in beta -- has more mainstream cachet than AltaVista News, AlltheWeb and NewsIsFree combined. So when Reuters (and the Register) picked up a comment that Google CEO Eric Schmidt recently made about offering a service for searching Weblogs, Daypop's Dan Chan was concerned. "Well, it was fun while it lasted..." wrote the man behind the popular Weblog and news search tool, Daypop, assuming he was dead meat.
Ever since Google purchased Weblog tool Blogger, people have been speculating on just how Google would be indexing Weblogs. The search behemoth already includes them in vanilla Web searches, but online gossip focused on a new "Weblog" search tab. The Register's Andrew Orlowski took the proverbial ball and ran with it, running an in-depth critique on this separate tab and how taking Weblogs out of vanilla search would improve results (that are mucked up by too many incestuous blog links).
Trouble is, no one talked to Google itself. A spokesman noted that Schmidt never specifically mentioned a tab on Google, and was only repeating the common knowledge that the company was working on Weblog searches. There was no specifics being released at this time, no comment to make, no story to write -- nothing to see here, please move along, folks.
Dan the (Only) Man
Until Google does announce something, Daypop lives on in the shadow of the giant. Most people who use Daypop probably have no idea that it was started and maintained by one man, programmer and game designer Dan Chan. Chan wanted to follow the soap opera of the 2000 U.S. presidential elections while living in Hong Kong, but couldn't find a variety of news sources by searching online. So after moving back to Los Angeles, he took six months to do the coding work for Daypop, launching it in August 2001 as a way to search Weblogs and news. A mention of Daypop in the Wall Street Journal brought his traffic to its current level of about 50,000 page views per day.
"After 9/11, I got a lot of calls from search engines who were interested in my service," he told me. "But Daypop was only out for a month and just wasn't scalable for big traffic. That was kind of a mistake, that I didn't license it out at the start. But I'm happy where it is, with a huge fan base of support."
Chan has been riding a rollercoaster with Daypop. He's experienced the highs of support from the online community and the ability to change features at will -- and the lows of running out of disk space and operating on a shoestring. A recent donation drive brought in $1,700 for equipment that will keep the site up for eight months, he estimates. But when he went to Italy last September and the service went down for a couple weeks, Wired News ran a story explaining that Chan was on vacation and would fix it when he got back.
Unbeknownst to many users, Chan says he had the service basically on auto-pilot for most of 2002, while he was taking an extended break from work. It's still mainly a weekend project while he starts up a game company called Heroes & Giants in Palo Alto, Calif. But with the freedom of being a one-man operation, Chan has added a raft of analysis tools for Weblogs and news -- Top 40, Top News, Word Bursts, Top Weblogs, and most recently Blogstats for more extended blog rankings.
"It's just Dan and his computer," says an admiring Gary Price, a research consultant and author who is running an online Q&A with Chan. "He has no bureaucracy and can change things at will. He's a great example of what one person can do, and it's just incredible that he could do it."
But can one man's weekend hobby stave off the maw of the hungry, hyperlink-crazed monster that is Google? Chan knows that there's no way he can compete with Google and that they could take all his traffic in a heartbeat. He's nervous but stays optimistic that Google could perhaps lift all boats by bringing more attention to Weblogs. Or is that the rationale of a deer caught in the headlights?