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Google’s Living Stories is a good effort—and if news orgs don’t like it, they should invent something better

December 9, 2009

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Google’s Living Stories project looks and functions a lot like what I was talking about back when I wrote “Keeping up with the news shouldn’t be like keeping up with ‘Lost'”—it keeps track of a news topic while still filling you in on the back story. It also, as Paul Bradshaw notes, “is built around the way people consume content online, as opposed to how they consumed it in print or broadcast. In other words, the unit of entry is the ‘topic’, not the ‘article’, ‘broadcast’ or ‘publication'”—that, I think, is key because it distinguishes itself as intended-for-the-Web content (not print/audio/video content re-purposed for the Web).

News orgs have tried things like this in the past (The New York Times topic pages, for example) and it’s nice to see Google getting into the fray with their own version.

Of course, a Google-meets-journalism story wouldn’t be complete without someone accusing Google of being big, nasty stealers. For this story, we have Dan Lyons:

I don’t believe Google really cares about fixing or saving the news business. I think Google is just sick of getting blamed for the newspaper industry’s woes. And so Google is throwing a very tiny amount of effort into a few random things so that when it gets criticized, it can say, “But look, we’re doing this thing and that thing; we’re really trying to help these newspapers find their way. We’re creating all this great technology, and we’re not even charging the publishers for it—we’re giving them all these great publishing tools, absolutely free!”

In other words: it’s all about PR.

First of all, Google didn’t get to be a multibillion-dollar business by succumbing to flaccid accusations from crotchety stewards of a near-dead industry. Second of all, any half-brained reader of Web metrics can tell you that most news sites get the bulk of their traffic from Google. Lastly, if the print industry feels so threatened by Google’s recent forays into news, they should invent something better. (I love, by the way, how Lyons goes on to accuse Google of stealing and then calls it “a monopoly.” If Google qualifies as a monopoly, that must have made the news industry some kind of super-monopoly during the last couple hundred years.)

I hope the news industry does start coming up with something(s) better, too. Google may be “famous for slapping things together quickly, putting them out into the world as ‘beta’ products, and then forgetting about them,” (Lyons, again) but that wouldn’t be the case if there were something competing with it. Competition will push Internet news—wherever it’s coming from—to much greater heights than where it sits now.

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