When Richard Jalichandra became Technorati's CEO in October, the company, a blogging and Web 2.0 pioneer, had generated enough drama in recent years to rival a soap opera.
Founded in 2002 and led by its charismatic founder and CEO David Sifry, Technorati was a central player in the dizzying rise of blogs, serving as bloggers' preferred search engine and embracing the spirit and technology of the Web 2.0 renaissance.
But by 2005, many of its most ardent fans had become regular and increasingly disenchanted critics, questioning everything from Technorati's ability to index and rank blogs properly to its business partnerships and decisions.
Last year saw much management upheaval, as Sifry, Vice President of Engineering Adam Hertz, Chief Technologist Tantek Celik and others left their posts, opening the door to new arrivals, including Jalichandra, who has broad experience with Internet startups and online media. (Sifry remains Technorati's board chairman.)
IDG News Service talked to Jalichandra last week about Technorati's future and its biggest challenges and opportunities. The following is an edited transcript of the interview, conducted at the Social Networking Conference in Miami Beach, where Jalichandra gave a speech.
IDG News Service: Is calling Technorati a blog search engine too narrow a definition of what the company does?
Jalichandra: Our heritage has been, is and will always be in blog search. We're one of only two real-time search indexes covering the blogosphere: us and Google. That said, one of the things we found people are doing on our site is trying to discover things that are going on in the blogosphere or follow conversations. So we recently added a discovery layer [called Percolator] on top of the search infrastructure so people can have more of a reading/browsing experience in addition to searching. Percolator's intention is to find out what's gaining attention either in blogs or mainstream media.
IDGNS: The boundaries between blogs and conventional Web sites have blurred significantly in recent years. How do you tackle that challenge if your mission is to index blogs specifically?
Jalichandra: Yes, there's a huge blur that's occurring. Mainstream media gets it now, and they realize that they can create a lot more content with participation from the community. Today, a lot of mainstream media articles are written on a blogging platform as opposed to a [traditional] content management system, and it's an interesting challenge.
IDGNS: Has Technorati then become a much broader and more encompassing search engine?
Jalichandra: That's absolutely true. Our audience has more than doubled in size in the last year, and so has the amount of data in our index. We're definitely collecting and serving a lot more information than we have in the past.
[According to comScore, Technorati's traffic grew from 948,000 unique visitors in December 2006 to 2.8 million in December 2007. By comparison, Google's Blog Search declined from 398,000 unique visitors to 359,000 in that period, although Google also serves up blog results in other of its engines, like News, Images and general Web search. Meanwhile, Technorati says it currently tracks 112.8 million blogs and more than 250 million "pieces of tagged social media."]
IDGNS: Are the executive changes at Technorati now finished?
Jalichandra: In the evolution of any company, and particularly startups, you have different skill sets for different stages. Our founder [David Sifry] is an amazing technologist, product evangelist and visionary, and he realized about a year ago that the business was getting big enough and that he needed professional media expertise, because at the end of the day the ultimate business model will be based around online advertising -- and he didn't have that background. Then, subsequently, we had some more people join the company with that kind of media expertise and, if anything, we're going to be throwing gasoline on the fire and adding a lot of people both on the technology side and the media and business sides.
IDGNS: Will Technorati seek more funding?
Jalichandra: There are some things we want to do to expand for which we might seek additional funds, but the great thing about where the business is today is we're sitting on a very large audience that allows us to monetize, so we're starting to see fairly significant increases in revenue, so that will also help fund some of the growth and expansion.
IDGNS: Technorati remains independent and privately held. Will it be sold to a larger company?
Jalichandra: My plan is always to build a great business, and those things usually take care of themselves when you build a great business. That's been my experience and what I intend to do now. You build a great company and either you're a great independent or somebody else finds a nice fit for you.
IDGNS: What are some key goals for Technorati in the coming year?
Jalichandra: The high-level objectives are to continue to provide a great user experience, and that's both search and discovery. On the business side, the objectives are simply stated: to build a monetization infrastructure to grow the business from the revenue side.
IDGNS: You carry Google ads. Do you sell your own ads as well?
Jalichandra: We do have our own sales force, and they're doing fantastically well. We recently hired a new VP of sales and a new VP of business development, and they're really working on building up that revenue machinery.
IDGNS: What is your international presence?
Jalichandra: We have a joint venture with Technorati Japan, and that's the only dedicated country-specific site. But in the blogosphere, language doesn't have a lot of barriers. We've counted close to 30 languages that appear regularly in the index. So while we don't have a very big international focus, by the sheer nature of the blogosphere we're an international company.
IDGNS: Any plans to expand your international presence?
Jalichandra: Absolutely. The blogosphere knows no borders so eventually we'll get there, but we're still a 30-person startup.
IDGNS: A lot of the content in social networks is trapped in those sites. Does Technorati feel it is getting locked out of indexing the content on those very popular sites?
Jalichandra: It's not a concern right now. There's enough people writing content specifically on blogs as opposed to their MySpace or Facebook page. Typically what you find with MySpace and Facebook is that there isn't a lot of serious blogging. People are just making one or two sentence proclamations and not writing [in-depth] about a subject matter.
IDGNS: Do you have any plans to increase the social applications or features within Technorati?
Jalichandra: People have Technorati profiles today, and registered users always check out who is linking to them, so that's one way that a lot of bloggers use Technorati today. In the future, we're looking certainly at anything we can do to improve the user experience or the community aspects of it.
IDGNS: Do you consider social-news sites like Digg and Slashdot competitors?
Jalichandra: What people do on Technorati is different from what they do on Digg. Digg is a more participatory news experience, whereas a lot of people that come to Technorati are looking to just follow a conversation happening on the blogosphere about a topic. I have a feeling that, like me, people use both Digg and Technorati for slightly different things.
IDGNS: What can Technorati fans expect to see this year in terms of enhancements to the site?
Jalichandra: In December we launched topical navigation categories, and because we have such an amazing amount of data we can create very granular topical areas, so I would look for an expansion of topics that end up with their own channels and sub-channels to highlight the conversations going on in those subject areas.
From a blogger standpoint, we also launched Blogger Central in December, and we started putting a number of resources there to be a one-stop shop for bloggers to find out what the latest and greatest and the best way to grow your blog and all that, with Technorati and non-Technorati material.
IDGNS: Do you feel you've got the spam-blog problem under control at Technorati?
Jalichandra: It's never fully under control because sploggers keep finding new, creative ways. It's not just us. Every search engine has been spammed to death. We feel we do a reasonably good job of it, considering how much spam there is in the blogosphere. It's a big part of what we do.