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A main piece of the blogging infrastructure - ping service Weblogs.com - has been bought by the Net's largest company, VeriSign, for $2.3m.

The deal will see VeriSign continue to run the basic ping service for free but add charged-for services, including a blog filter, in coming months.

Explaining his decision to sell the site and service he had built up since 1999, Dave Winer explained in a personal blog entry that he felt VeriSign could do a much better job of the service, which now deals with 1.2 million pings a day. "Further, it will require great resources to tackle the ping-spam issue, and there Verisign's expertise, not just what's visible today, but what's coming down the road, will make all the difference. I was in no position to do this on my own."

The huge cheque no doubt also had something to do with the decision.

The Weblogs.com service is a vital part of the blogging phenomenon. Originally set up to host people's blogs, it was soon turned into a "ping" service. The way it works is very simple: whenever someone adds a new entry to their blog, their blog pings - or sends notification of the fact - to Weblogs.com. Weblogs currently makes very little effort to review this information, it simply creates a list of the blog entry title, a link to the entry and the time is was posted.

This list is then accessed by other services and search engines which add it to their intelligent filtering services and so allow people to find the latest blog entries on a particular subject. The list provides a single source of information, thereby saving every search tool from having to scour the literally millions of blogs every minute of every day. Weblogs is not the only blog ping service on the Internet but it remains the largest and most well known.

However, blogging's success has meant that the ping service has rapidly expanded and costs have increased. At the same time, an explosion of spam blog entries (called, inevitably splogs) has made the need for a filtering mechanism increasingly important. Since the service is free (and will most likely need to remain so), Winer decided the best thing to do was accept VeriSign's offer.

VeriSign has explained its reasons for the purchase in its own blog entry. A blogging ping service is no longer a job for a dedicated individual, the company explained: "For a long time, ping servers could be stood up as a single box running on a fast business DSL connection. Those days have passed at least for the popular ping servers; pings are well on their way to requiring serious infrastructure."

And VeriSign is ideally placed to deal with it: "Not only are we running the DNS Registry and the largest TLDs (.com/.net), we handle hundreds of millions of transactions every month in the areas of mobile telephony, e-commerce payments, and instant messaging among other things.

"As we look ahead a few years, we see a future in which pings are generated not just by the millions per day, but by the tens and hundreds of millions. The blogosphere will continue to grow - rapidly - but we already note signs that RSS and the mechanics of feed-based publishing will extend well beyond the blogging perimeter, and be adopted as an enabling technology in areas like mainstream media publishing and corporate data distribution. In short, we believe that it won’t be long before terms like ping, feed, and trackback become part of the conventional lexicon for Internet publishing as a whole, not just the realm of blogs."

VeriSign has promised that the basic ping service will remain free, but "over time, we plan to offer value-added services... in much the same way companies like Yahoo! provide basic email services for free, and offer premium 'upgrades' for a fee."

The company then went on to discuss the problem of splogs and what could be done with them. "This problem is fraught with many of the same problems that plague the email world in its struggle against spam: Who is the source? What is the content about? Is it a copy?... However, at the infrastructure level, very little is currently being done, and there are remedies that can be deployed that will provide significant, if not thorough relief."

It's a smart move by both VeriSign and Winer, and if nothing else, an indication that blogs are now being taken very seriously by the big players.

Related links

Dave Winer explains sale
VeriSign outlines its plans

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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