U.S. researchers claim to have invented the first Internet search engine tuned to uncover scandal as it unfolds, gossip as it’s being dished, and able to monitor the prickly views of an increasingly prominent tribe of bloggers.

Online Search, the working title for a prototype tool by Accenture Technology Labs, in Palo Alto, Calif., goes beyond mere keyword lookups about products, public figures or trends.

Instead, the search focuses on several thousand influential sources of online news and gossip that have traditionally been less accessible to search algorithms – from chat rooms and bulletin boards, to Usenet groups, fan sites and blogs written by amateur scribes. From those, it identifies hot topics and monitors people’s positive or negative reaction to the next new thing.

Record executives who want to track the “buzz” their artists’ new releases are getting online, politicians looking for instant feedback about a policy announcement or stump speech, and companies seeking speedier, cheaper ways to conduct post-marketing surveillance after a product launch, are among those expected to benefit from the more tailored search.

It’s a potentially cheaper, more efficient alternative to focus groups or polling. The information is date-stamped and refreshed daily, and may be used to chart detailed analyses of competitive issues as they evolve, the inventors say.

Even a basic ability to interpret the so-called “Blogosphere” will be welcome news to those people who have experienced the wrath of this global Internet community.

With their numbers conservatively estimated at anywhere from six to 10 million, swelling by at least 23,000 new online diaries a day, bloggers – scribes filtering the news through a uniquely personalized lens – are becoming critical influencers of public opinion.

Apple’s decision to offer replacement batteries for the iPod came, coincidentally, after rumours spread through the Blogosphere that the batteries “only last 18 months.”

Lock manufacturer Kryptonite tacitly acknowledged the impact of bloggers when it agreed to spend millions to placate customers whose U-shaped bicycle locks, an Internet billboard found, could be picked in seconds using a ballpoint pen.

Television icon Dan Rather’s impending retirement, the firings of four CBS colleagues and recent dismissal of a CNN producer, have all been linked to sullying opinion posted online to a worldwide audience of billions.

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