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August 8, 2007

Google News Adds Comments

Google News is useful if you want to read all the related articles in a single view and to get an unbiased overview of the most important stories, but it lacks interactivity and user participation. To change this, the news site will allow comments, but only from people involved in a story.
We'll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we'll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as "comments" so readers know it's the individual's perspective, rather than part of a journalist's report.

While the idea is interesting, it's very hard to materialize it. The participants in a story have to:

1) read Google News
2) read the story that involves them
3) mail the comment to: news-comments@google.com
4) prove their identity (this could be tricky)

The problem is that all of these take time and the reaction might come too late, when the story is no longer important. Besides, journalists already try to include the positions of every party involved in a story. Here's a quote from Reuters' handbook of journalism:
As Reuters journalists, we never identify with any side in an issue, a conflict or a dispute. Our text and visual stories need to reflect all sides, not just one. This leads to better journalism because it requires us to stop at each stage of newsgathering and ask ourselves "What do I know?" and "What do I need to know?" In reporting a takeover bid, for example, it should be obvious that the target company must be given an opportunity to state their position. Similarly in a political dispute or military conflict, there are always at least two sides to consider and we risk being perceived as biased if we fail to give adequate space to the various parties.

The difference between a Google News comment and a quote from a news story is that the comment is unedited and complete. "News articles (...) often include quotes and statements, but all this information is usually edited to fit together in one cohesive article."

Google hopes to "enhance the news experience for readers, testing the hypothesis that - whether they're penguin researchers or presidential candidates - a personal view can sometimes add a whole new dimension to the story." That's true, but you can also read interesting perspectives from people that aren't mentioned in a news story. Or from people that witnessed a news.



Google's dilemma is that it wants to include interesting comments, but without deciding what comments to publish.

"We want to make the full spectrum of views and information on a story available to all Google News users, and we think this feature will help us to do that without sacrificing quality of our coverage. Each comment will provide you with additional insight because it comes from individuals with information related to a story, who otherwise might not have an outlet to present it. As a result, each story will only display a few comments."

Google will start to test this new feature in the US edition of Google News, but I think the success will be very limited unless they allow more people to participate. Google has all the tools necessary for citizen journalism (mobile video upload in YouTube, mobile photo upload for Blogger, personalized Google Maps), but it doesn't use them.

This blog is not affiliated with Google.