By now if you’re a web afficianado you’d know that Google News is out of beta . Big deal. The real meat in this story is Google’s launch of a personalised news service , which it seems the company has been waiting to complete before it ripped up the beta sticker.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we’re building a content aggregator as our very first “labs” project so I’ve spent a lot of time analysing what I feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the various aggregators out there. So where do I see Google News and what impact will its new recommendation make?
I use Google News every day. MediaConnects produce a daily column each day in which we analyse the day’s Australian tech media coverage, giving credit to journos for breaking news stories. A Google News search is invaluable for us in terms of trying to determine if a story was exclusive, how it might have been sourced and who broke the story first. For me, that’s always been the power of the service – searching. It’s a great “journal of record” but I tried using Google News as a gatekeeper for barely a day before giving up on it.
The fundamental flaw with Google News is that its based primarily on clustering, not ranking. It’s ability to rate a story is limited to analysing how many times a particular story is reported. So it has enough intelligence to pick out the most reported story. Woop-de-doop. That’s equates to almost zero value add because by the time a story makes it to prominence on Google News, it’s already been reported by every man and its dog and subsequently Google News can only ever be a follower. Can you imagine a newspaper editor saying “I’ve got this really great concept. We’re going to concentrate on reporting all the news, that everybody else has already reported!”
At best, the Google News news pages serves a purpose as a backup source, enabling a reader to ensure they haven’t missed any big news stories. Again, there’s that journal of record aspect.
The other related flaw with Google News is it has no ability to rate stories within a cluster. So where memeorandum gains the intelligence of ranking stories in a thread, by looking at the number of links a post receives, Google News has no such intelligence. I presume it makes a decision based on how long ago a story was posted and by the credibility of its various news sources it tracks. Hardly, a sophisticated way of picking out the best coverage of a particular story.
Now Google is also recommending news stories based on your search history. So how does this change the game for Google? It improves the service in one manner. Google News has large overarching topics which are really too broad to be of any use as an aggregator. So at least, you’ll be able to keep tabs on narrow subject areas. However, Google’s got a better killer app here. It’s Google News Alert. I subscribe to all stories related to the football team I follow and have those emailed to me. The value-add here is that I’m alerted to new stories even if I’m not checking the web or my newsfeeds.
The problem for Google News is the flaws I’ve already outlined, are only exacerbated when it comes to the effectiveness of its recommendation engine. According to the Google News help page, (hat tip to Search Engine Watch ) this is how the recommendation service works.
So you get served up other popular stories. But chances are, a story is only popular because Google’s flawed rating system has put it there in the first place. It’s very much a case of the blind leading the blind.
I’d be very surprised if the people behind today’s leading aggregators are shaking in their boots over these latest developments. Google News will always have its place and the fact that its a Google product means it will always be an influential aggregator. However, as a gatekeeper that points people to new, interesting content, I’m afraid it needs a fundamental redevelopment. That’s highly unlikely based on the fact the service is now out of beta.
So content aggregators rejoice. Squash’s bet is that this is one corner of the Internet that Google won’t be dominating anytime soon.