Improving Google News – Can it i-happen?

MG Siegler writes on comparing Google News with other tech news venues. He suggests that algorithms alone are not enough to make decisions about what actually is news and what is stale. His comment about re-bloggers getting purposed before the original story shows just how stale the information really is. But I have to go a couple steps further than Siegler. The most important thing to remember about the ‘sci/tech’ section of google news is that it’s supposed to encompass science and tech. Grouping them together in one section is akin to smaller book stores grouping science-fiction and horror together. They really are separate entities with a blurry overlap.

First, the sci/tech section seems to have ‘darling’ topics that it just can’t let go of: anything with ‘i’ prefixed to it gets placed first. Ipad, iphone, and the precious ‘apps’ that go with their ilk. There is never a point at which something phone-related – usually apple, but sometimes andriod – is not above the fold. Facebook and games round out most of what you find in the tech section. If your interest is natural sciences, good luck ever finding anything interesting above the fold on google sci/tech news. It’s just wrong-headed.

Second, the tech items that often make it into ‘sci/tech’ are usually questionable as to their tech content. How is the Winklevoss law suit against facebook technical? This belongs in the entertainment section along with Aniston’s dog’s death, because this is really more about gawking at the problems of famous people and famous companies. The same goes for the Israeli couple who named their new-born daughter ‘Like’ for the facebook button. Not tech. Winklevoss vs Facebook - found in sci/tech on google news

Third, Sci/Tech articles today are endlessly more about famous tech people, corporate restructuring of tech companies and corporate policy wonking than they are about the actual
science or tech. I made a pdf of the current google tech news page. Incidentally it self-labels as “tech” – not “sci/tech” when it prints to pdf. The list below shows what’s really in the tech section right now:

  • Corporate Wonking
    Nine articles about take-overs, mergers, acquisitions, law suits, internet privacy issues, product launches, all from the pundits’ points of view about corporations. These are articles where talking heads mold their spin about corporate policy.
  • Games
    Three articles about games… Seriously, games are not tech. They’re sport. These articles belong in the sports section along with chess, cards and poker. They may not be physically challenging, but they are about sportsmanship, ability and experience in an arena with peers.
  • Fame
    Three articles about famous people or their relationship with famous corporations. They’re only marginally tagged as tech because the word ‘facebook’ or ‘apple’ shows up in the headline or in the content. These belong in the entertainment section, because they have absolutely no technical value. How ever is someone naming their daughter after a facebook button categorized as tech?
  • Phones/apps
    Three articles about apps, phones and the companies who make them. These are little more than reviews, hype or unpaid commercial advertisements for the latest gadget. They are less about tech and more about style.

None of the above articles are about tech. They don’t talk about new advances in technology or how something was discovered or achieved. And sci/tech is just one section in Google news. This mis-categorization is rampant throughout google news. During mothers day weekend, it appears apple pie was news-worthy. Recipes for apple pie… No tie-in, no segue… Seriously — this is news?

But this is not the small bookstore. If you sign in, you can add your own sections, mix them around or create new sections altogether. This is nice for when you want something like ‘Solar Power’ or ‘Nuclear Physics’, but when all you want is true natural sciences and advancements in tech, you have to use a fairly broad set of search terms. The more terms you add, the more likely you’re going to end up with something that looks like the original google sci/tech.

Google News: Add a target button.Fourth, Google has been pretty savvy about crowdsourcing, the most famous of which, arguably might be their image labeling method. It’s a wonder that they haven’t brought crowdsourcing to Google News. Google’s fast-flip feature has ‘Share’ and ‘Link’ social buttons. How about a ‘Target’ button? Give us the ability to frame whether something really is news, whether it’s stale, whether it was properly categorized. Give us the ability to tell you how stale it is. For intance, some stories seem to hang around for days, while others are only there for hours. If the article in question is a blog post about someone else’s actual article, allow us to tell google news what the original source is. Allow us to suggest whether a story is just a reblog. Give us the ability to suggest what section an article/post really belongs under. There are probably better ways to do this, but this kind of suggestion could get the ball rolling, and not just for google fast-flip. Making news more participatory might make for better news sections.

Why not use the above and all that ‘aggregated-and-de-personalized’ data to give us a better news experience?

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