Last week I was pretty full on with my praise for Google News. I still think it’s great, but it’s a long, long way from perfect. So today I'm going to open up the door to the dark side and have a bit of a whinge.
The biggest problem with Google News is the way it ranks news results, giving priority to newer editions from larger organisations rather than the original. For the average user, this isn’t a problem. They still get the same news, just from a different source, with a slightly different angle.
For publishers though, the consequences are huge. The way Google displays news is actually a disincentive to ‘break’ a story (MG Siegler from TechCrunch talks about this in more depth here. He's usually a bit of a jerk but he's spot on in this case.) Last Night’s top story on Google News was a perfect example of this. The picture below shows the 'Full Coverage' section for that story. Five articles, by my reckoning just about identical, (feel free to compare them for yourself with the links at the bottom of the article) yet the first article to be published sits at the bottom of the pile.
|The Original Story from the Northcote Leader (actually published 6 hours ago) sits at the bottom|
|This article was actually published about 6 hours earlier (not four like Google thought)|
Of course a big reason for this is the relative obscurity of the Northcote Leader when compared with the ABC Online, causing Google's algorithm to place more weight on the 'trusted source'. But there lies the problem. One of the key values Google uses to determine how trusted the site may be is how often people click on it from the news page. A higher ranked site will obviously get more clicks. You don't have to be a genius to foresee the vicious circle that follows.
The picture below is a perfect example of the culmination of this cycle. Four of the top five articles in the Australian section come form the Sydney Morning Herald, meaning for all the potential variety and choice Google News promises we may as well have just gone to smh.com.au.
Here are links to the screenshots, as promised.