HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Complicating the network: The year in social media research
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
June 9, 2009, 2:51 p.m.

Google News experimenting with links to Wikipedia on its homepage

The discrete news article, it has been said, is a framework that worked well in print but doesn’t make much sense on the web. News sites can offer context in a variety of ways that explode the story model, from visualizations to comment threads to what might be called the Wikipedia model of news. No, not collaborative editing, although that has its own advantages, but merely the structure of a Wikipedia article: one page devoted to an ongoing topic that’s updated throughout with new developments but can always be read, from top to bottom, as a thorough primer. Compared to a folder of chronological news clippings, well, I would always prefer the Wikipedia model.

So, too, would readers. Wikipedia became the Internet’s most popular news-and-information site in 2007, and its dominance in search results attests to the demand for authoritative topic pages over individual articles. Now, in a small but potentially crucial moment for the evolution of storytelling, Google News has quietly begun experimenting with links to Wikipedia on its homepage.

“Currently, we’re showing a small number of users links to Wikipedia topic pages that serve as a reference on current events,” Gabriel Stricker, a spokesman for Google, told me in an email this afternoon.

Sadly, I’m not one of those users, but I was alerted to this development by blogger Michael Gray, who viewed Wikipedia’s presence on Google News in a more-sinister light but helpfully provided screenshots. I grabbed the one above from Gray, highlighting a link to the Wikipedia page for the mysterious disappearance of Air France Flight 447. As is typically the case, there is no single page on the Internet with a more thorough, helpful, or informative synopsis of the crash.

Google News redesigned its homepage last month and began integrating YouTube clips from news organizations. Its cluster pages for individual news stories also got a makeover that more closely resembles a topic page than the old list of articles.

In his email to me, Stricker called the links to Wikipedia an experiment, which it is, but Google has made clear that it prefers the Wikipedia model of storytelling over discrete articles. In her testimony to Congress last month, Google vice president Marissa Mayer (that’s a link to Wikipedia, natch) said, “The atomic unit of consumption for existing media is almost always disrupted by emerging media.” She continued:

Today, in online news, publishers frequently publish several articles on the same topic, sometimes with identical or closely related content, each at their own URL. The result is parallel Web pages that compete against each other in terms of authority, and in terms of placement in links and search results.

Consider instead how the authoritativeness of news articles might grow if an evolving story were published under a permanent, single URL as a living, changing, updating entity. We see this practice today in Wikipedia’s entries and in the topic pages at NYTimes.com. The result is a single authoritative page with a consistent reference point that gains clout and a following of users over time.

It’s not a new concept, and news organizations like The New York Times have been working on it for years. (Kevin Sablan recently summarized the latest literature on all this — a topic page for topic pages.) And yet, the article and its close cousin, the blog post, remain the dominant frameworks for news reporting on the web. Radical reinventions of storytelling are, surprisingly, few and far between: Matt Thompson, the leading thinker on this subject, is trying “a completely different type of news site” in Columbia, Missouri, that’s worth keeping an eye on. And, now, Google News is toying with links to Wikipedia. Here’s hoping for more developments like this.

POSTED     June 9, 2009, 2:51 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Complicating the network: The year in social media research
Journalist’s Resource sifts through the academic journals so you don’t have to. Here are 12 of the studies about social and digital media they found most interesting in 2014.
News in a remix-focused culture
“We have to stop thinking about how to leverage whatever hot social platform is making headlines and instead spend time understanding how communication is changing.”
Los Angeles is the content future
“Creative content people are frustrated with the industry and creating their content on their own terms. Sound familiar?”
What to read next
587
tweets
Complicating the network: The year in social media research
Journalist’s Resource sifts through the academic journals so you don’t have to. Here are 12 of the studies about social and digital media they found most interesting in 2014.
339Finance media’s hottest club is Ello
Business reporters flocking to the platform won’t radically change journalism, but it’s worth asking why users gather where they do.
305Why Google is taking another shot at helping readers pay for news
Google Contributor is the latest tool the company has designed to help readers pay for what they read online. But its previous experiments in supporting paid content have had limited success.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Current TV
Ars Technica
Suck.com
WyoFile
PBS
Newsweek
The Chronicle of Higher Education
O Globo
The Dish
The UpTake
The Guardian
Sports Illustrated