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Where's The Fire? It's On Technorati

David A. Utter
Staff Writer
Published: 2007-02-01

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Our favorite three-letter acronym has been adopted by Dave Sifry as the newest feature on his blog search site, giving it a little social media flavor by allowing people to write about current topics and others to vote on the best commentary.

WTF? It's one of the more popular little collections of three letters people use to describe their bafflement at some particularly head-shaking piece of news. At Technorati, visitors have that same feeling when someone or something suddenly becomes a hot topic, but aren't sure why.

That's when Where's The Fire? comes into play. Sifry explained how the new feature works:

When you see a top search with an orange flame next to it, it means at least one person from the community has written their view as to why that topic is hot - right now. The community is also invited to either write their own explanation or vote on the WTFs they view as most helpful. Based on a combination of number of votes and timeliness, the top WTFs by search topic appear on the top of the results page.

But it isn't just for the hottest searches or the stuff with the biggest buzz - in fact, one of the things that I like the most about WTF is that you can write an explanation about any search or topic, and if you get the most votes, your explanation goes in at the top of the results page for that search. You can write a WTF on any topic that someone would search for, and provide information and resources to them about that topic or subject. So, you might want to write a WTF about yourself or your friends' names, or your company (or maybe even your competition!)

Technorati alum Niall Kennedy also provided some backstory on how staffers would openly wonder why a topic suddenly caught fire:

Technorati WTF is a mini-blog post aimed at a specific audience. Bloggers who used to try and summarize the top search results on their own blog and attract the attention of searchers can now add a note and possibly gain a reputation directly on the Technorati search result page. It's a OneBox-like placement for the knowledge search item best matching your query.

That placement gives the WTF blurb the top result on a page for a search term. It's a useful idea, but we can't help but be a little concerned about how it might be misused. Even though the community can quickly vote better WTF blurbs up past less useful ones, that may not happen immediately on queries that don't have the same heavy volume of searches.

As Sifry noted, anyone (logged in as a Technorati user) can write a WTF about the competition. What if Company A chooses to write that Company B "regularly tests its products on fluffy bunnies while the CEO giggles in the corner" and Company B doesn't see that right away?

It looks like everyone who wants to monetize the new wave of social media marketing will have to add a Technorati WTF to the checklist for their clients when building a campaign. All those carefully planned efforts at building a viral buzz would crash when searchers found a negative, even deceptive, WTF through their queries on Technorati.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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