Guardian has an article about Googles approach to future of journalism. The approach is quite interesting.. You can read from http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/oct/07/google-josh-cohen-interview
Despite its non-journalistic approach, Google’s latest tools could revolutionise both the experience and production of news media
Google’s search algorithm works on a simple principle: on the web, sites link to other authoritative sources, and the more sites link to something the more authoritative they think it is. That’s great if you’re dealing with sites that actually follow that rule – as the vast majority do.
But what do you do to make your search engine useful when you have a class of websites that produce almost identical content but which barely ever link to each other? What does Google do about news websites?
They generate new content all the time, sometimes using (or copying) each others’ work without acknowledgement – particularly without those links to each others’ sites that Google’s standard algorithm relies on to measure authority. What do you do with a chunk of the web that doesn’t really behave like the rest of the web?
That’s the problem facing Josh Cohen, senior business product manager for Google News. He can’t win. Since Google News arrived in April 2002, and in its more current form that September, publishers have had a love-hate relationship with it. They complain that it is “stealing” readers by providing a product similar to their own but without producing any content, yet desire prominent placement so that people will come and read their stories by clicking through from it.
Cohen notes that people don’t use Google News as they do Google’s main page: “The user base on Google News is split. One half is using it in a browse mode and the other half is actively searching.”
But one returns to that problem about news sites: the rules of journalistic production are not compatible with Google’s algorithm, based on the link culture of the web. And even though Maile Ohye, Google’s developer programs technical head, has said that in news searching Google values the original source which broke the story first, Google News shows something different.
But Google, where 97% of revenues come from advertising and just 3% from licencing and other sources, isn’t giving up on journalism. While news portals are still moving their editorial staff from evening deadlines to the early morning shifts that are relevant for an office medium such as the internet, Google is taking another approach to journalism.
It is insistent, for example, that humans don’t choose what stories appear: computers do. And computers also inform its other experiments with how to present journalistic output, most recently Spotlight (which follows an algorithm focusing on filtering special-interest articles, opinion pieces, investigative journalism and other articles of “lasting value”) and Fast Flip, which creates an ad-hoc magazine of screenshots of news organisations’ webpages — where, it’s hard not to notice, those with prominent pictures of women often feature among the most-clicked.
Cohen agrees that Google is trying to emulate certain journalistic qualities alongside breaking news: “Yes, the Spotlight feature attempts to bring interesting pieces to the surface. And here it overlaps with Fast Flip, which is like browsing through a magazine.”
So is Google moving away from breaking news? “I wouldn’t call that a shift of strategy,” says Cohen. “Indeed with Spotlight, Google News is not focusing on news, but on the serendipity you get from picking up a newspaper.
“Fast Flip follows a similar approach. By flipping through, you start reading a story you never would have thought of to read. It’s the fun element of discovery. We think of it as a hyper-personalisation that brings to readers the serendipity they know from print.”
Previously, Google has concentrated on being a search engine and delivering breaking news from other organisations. Now it is delivering something that the reader hasn’t actually searched for – another way in which news is unlike normal search.
So is Google really not moving away from simply searching the news? Cohen (who was hired when Google recognised that it should put a face to its algorithm) sounds evasive: “Well, the reader would not search for it, but still it works like a request for a hyper-personalisation of news. It is not easy to develop an algorithm for it. It keeps the programmers busy. It is very tough to figure out, how to do it and import it into the service.”
When you are talking to Google, sooner or later you come across this argument: it is the algorithm, regardless of whether you are asking about privacy issues, the ranking within Google News, or Google’s plans on expanding within journalism. You’ve got a problem? Well, there is an algorithm for it. And Google is not only programming an algorithm for new ways of delivering journalism but products that might as well affect its production.
New wave of journalism
This year, Google has rolled out nine new search options. These are hidden in the left sidebar and allow users to filter their results by hour or date range, or to look only within blogs, or for reviews. This means that Google’s search can now be filtered to show results indexed minutes or seconds ago – ideal for researching a story.
“There is a lot of high-quality information out there,” says Cohen. “Not only journalism, but blogs and other services. And our task is to bring this information to the reader. So ask yourself: Is Twitter journalism? I don’t know. But there is no question that it is part of the dialogue.”
Besides that there is also Google Wave, a browser-based tool that could be used for real-time collaborative journalism, which has just gone into public beta testing (with mixed results).
Cohen says of the product, which hardly anyone had seen when we spoke: “We had a lot of publishers reaching out to us, asking if they can use Google Wave. There is clearly an interest there.”
And certainly newspapers have made good use of collaborative journalism – including the Guardian’s investigation of 458,832 pages of documents about MPs’ expenses.
So could Google News use Google Wave as a reporting tool and, following a disaster, for example, publish the results immediately via the new live search?
At the moment, Cohen says not: “We will always draw the distinction: we are not journalists. We don’t want to become editors. We understand ourselves as a service or a platform. There is no overarching goal in becoming something like the iTunes of journalism.
“As a company it is just really important to play with different angles and continue to try new things. We develop things, a lot of different things, and we put them out to learn from our failures. That’s simply what we do.”
And, as the market position of Google is a lot better than that of many publishers, technology will keep on chasing journalism. The relationship might not be easy, but apart from the future arriving here much faster, it is here to stay.