Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Serial meets The X-Files in Limetown, a fictional podcast drawing raves after just one episode
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.
Serial meets The X-Files in Limetown, a fictional podcast drawing raves after just one episode
“Serial had to stay nonfictional. At the end of the show, it didn’t necessarily mean that it had a conclusion. That’s the biggest advantage we have: We’re making it up. So we can give you an ending.”
The Atlantic is returning to blogging
“We missed the kind of writing it represents. We missed the kind of audience engagement it represents.”
The mourning of AJR is less about a decline in press criticism than the loss of an institution
Like the media it covers, journalism criticism has moved from the work of a few established institutions to something more diffuse.
What to read next
2351
tweets
The New York Times built a Slack bot to help decide which stories to post to social media
The bot, named Blossom, helps predict how stories will do on social and also suggests which stories editors should promote.
1287Jo Ellen Green Kaiser: Do independent news outlets have a blind spot when it comes to ethnic media?
The head of the Media Consortium argues that, by defining themselves in opposition to mainstream media, independent progressive outlets miss out on the power of ethnic and community journalism.
1029Newsonomics: 10 numbers on The New York Times’ 1 million digital-subscriber milestone
Digital subscribers are proving to be the bedrock of the Times’ business model going forward. How much more room is there for growth — and at what price points?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
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 ➚
La Nación
Hearst
The Guardian
Frontline
CNN
The Times of London
Bayosphere
AOL
St. Louis Beacon
The Orange County Register
O Globo
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel