Nieman Foundation at Harvard
What publishers around the world learned by sharing their climate change coverage with each other
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Jan. 12, 2012, 2:30 p.m.

What would a Google News Plus Your World look like?

If Google wants to add a personal component to discovering the world’s information, it shouldn’t be long till Google News gets more social.

How soon until we get a Google News “Plus Your World?”

With the introduction of the oddly extraterrestrial-sounding Google “Search Plus Your World”, the company proclaimed their latest experiment is “transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships.” The world of search gets split up and re-filtered through the things Google knows you like and information from the people around you.

Now, since the announcement there’s been much controversy over how “the things Google knows you like” seems to be driven almost entirely by Google+, not larger competitors Facebook and Twitter, which has led to cries for an antitrust inquiry. But let’s set that aside for a moment and think about what the underlying idea of Search Plus Your World could mean for Google News.

Here’s what we know of how Search Plus Your World works:

1. Personal Results, which enable you to find information just for you, such as Google+ photos and posts—both your own and those shared specifically with you, that only you will be able to see on your results page;

2. Profiles in Search, both in autocomplete and results, which enable you to immediately find people you’re close to or might be interested in following; and,

3. People and Pages, which help you find people profiles and Google+ pages related to a specific topic or area of interest, and enable you to follow them with just a few clicks. Because behind most every query is a community.

Let’s say you were interested in Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney. Taking the normal route through Google News, you’d most likely try searching for “mitt romney” or click on the newly added Elections header and get links to stories from usual suspects like USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and more.

If you dropped a “Search Plus” layer to that, what might you expect? If your Google+ friends are sharing stories about Romney, they might get shoved to the top. That would likely mean they’d be more closely aligned to your friends’ political perspectives; your liberal friends are probably sharing anti-Romney pieces, your conservative ones pro-Romney ones. (Well, unless they’re conservatives who don’t like Romney, but that’s another issue.) You might also see individual Google+ pages from Romney, other G.O.P. candidates — and maybe even the G+ pages of individual reporters who are covering the campaign and writing some of the stories you’re being shown.

That probably sounds a little familiar to what we’ve come accustom to seeing on Twitter and Facebook. But neither of those sites is fueled by the same combination of search and network. Twitter search looks at everybody’s tweets; Facebook’s news feed just flows on by, driven by Facebook’s algorithms rather than your search interests. Google has the search DNA, the news-crawling infrastructure, and at least the start of the network knowledge that could combine to make something new.

Those are pretty powerful assets and remain the reason Google still inspires animosity in some news executives and antitrust lawyers. A Google News Plus Your World (let’s call it “Google News+” for the sake of brevity) could in theory provide users a social news service that (whether they like it or not) knows about their browsing habits and social graph while also filtering “news” product out of the larger mass of the web.

Google News already provides tools for customization, but most (though not all) rely on users’ being interested in fiddling — yes to business, no to entertainment, more Wall Street Journal, less Cat Fancy. The genius of the social news feed is that it bases those decisions off of network data. You just need to build a network.

But let’s stretch the speculation just a bit further: the toggle. One of the more clever aspects of Search Plus is the ability to shift back and forth between normal and personalized search with one little switch. The toggle is a way to dodge the backlash that comes when any product is seemingly irreversibly redesigned (and built on seemingly self-serving decisions of the sort that gets lawyers involved).

For a notional Google News+, that little switch would be a dividing line for readers between the fire hose and a curated feed. It could also be, as Steven Levy points out over at Wired, the pin that pops Eli Pariser’s Filter Bubble. That kind of freedom, to jump back and forth between the personalized feed and the raw stream, is not common on news sites. The toggle is a promise of serendipity, but also the comfort of your favorite, trusted news service, which, if you are someone still mourning the transformation of Google Reader, could harken back to glory days of the RSS service.

One bit of groundwork is already laid for something like Google News+: the integration of journalists Google+ profiles into Google News. Connecting authorship to identity is an ongoing Google interest, beginning with the authorship markup language that spotlighted writers in search results. As Google tries to integrate social into every corner of their business, a fully social-fied Google News would seem like a logical next step.

POSTED     Jan. 12, 2012, 2:30 p.m.
Show comments  
Show tags
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What publishers around the world learned by sharing their climate change coverage with each other
For the better part of this year, news organizations in the Climate Publishers Network have been republishing each other’s climate change stories in order to expand their coverage of the issue.
Hot Pod: Is “Why doesn’t audio go viral?” the wrong question to ask?
“What Rolltape represents to me is an attempt to carve out a whole new digital space that requests a completely different kind of social interaction: sincerely, thoughtfully, slowly.”
“Why not be all the way in?” How publishers are using Facebook Instant Articles
“If we end up making more money as a publisher, that’s fantastic. I don’t think that’s going to be an afterthought or byproduct; I think there is a way to win from the business perspective.”
What to read next
How one blog helped spark The New York Times’ digital evolution
“I certainly had editors tell me that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on Bird Week. But that was the best part of City Room…We were like unsupervised children.”
572News outlets left and right (and up, down, and center) are embracing virtual reality technology
Among those experimenting is The Wall Street Journal, which plans to open source its 360-degree mobile video and VR technology and hopes to turn VR into more of a mainstay of its storytelling.
502Podcasting in 2015 feels a lot like blogging circa 2004: exciting, evolving, and trouble for incumbents
The same trends we saw a decade ago — professionalization on one hand, platformization on the other — sure seem to be playing out again.
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 ➚
The New Republic
Zonie Report
West Seattle Blog
Hechinger Report
The Bay Citizen
The Globe and Mail
The Washington Post