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Google is an Internet search and technology corporation that aims to “organize the world’s information.”
Google is the world’s most popular search engine and the most visited website in the U.S. overall as of 2011. The company had a net income of $2.3 billion in the first quarter 2011 — up 17 percent from the first quarter of 2010 — the vast majority of which came from advertising, particularly Google AdWords.
Google began as a search engine but has moved into virtually every aspect of the web, including email (Gmail), web browsers (Google Chrome), blogging (Blogger), RSS (Google Reader, shut down in 2013), social readers (Google Play Newsstand) web video (YouTube), maps and directions (Google Maps), satellite mapping (Google Earth), geolocation (Google Latitude), computer operating systems (Google Chrome OS), VoIP and instant messaging (Google Talk), telecommunications (Google Voice), mobile devices (Motorola Mobility) and platforms (Android), online travel guides (Frommer’s, bought in 2012, shut down in 2013), television (Google TV and Chromecast), high-speed Internet service, smart home devices (Nest, acquired in 2014), and even augmented-reality glasses (Google Glass).
Its first and primary service, Google Search, operates through an algorithmic process based on links and authority. In recent years, Google has also added personalized search, real-time search of social networks like Twitter and Facebook, socially based search, and an answer-based search called Knowledge Graph.
Google’s informal motto is “Don’t be evil,” though as it has grown into one of the web’s largest corporations, it has drawn accusations of violating that standard by manipulating search results, violating users’ privacy, and failing to stand up against government censorship.
Some web watchers have suggested Google’s algorithm and cross-platform development are powerful enough that it needs further government oversight, though Google and others have argued against the need for such measures.
After several years of rumors and reports, Google announced the release of its own tablet, as well as a cloud-based streaming media device, in June 2012. Google has also developed a self-serve Android app creator called App Inventor. Though its Android Market has met criticism for its open — some say chaotic — distribution system, it is expected to eclipse Apple’s App Store in terms of the number of applications it offers before the end of 2011.
Google has made numerous forays into social media since 2003, developing or acquiring social applications like Orkut, Dodgeball, Google Talk, Picasa, Jaiku, OpenSocial, Google Lively, Google Wave, Aardvark, and Google Buzz. Google Reader also became a social network, though it was killed with the launch of Google+ — and the service was shut down entirely in 2013. In March 2011, Google added a “+1″ button that lets users “vote up” search results.
In June 2011, Google launched Google+, its most comprehensive social application to date. The service grew quickly, reaching 10 million users within three weeks and 90 million users within seven months. Google said in February 2014 that Google+ has 540 million monthly users, though almost half do not visit the social network itself. It has been criticized, however, for a lack of activity among its users and lack of responsiveness in building features, though Google has disputed that characterization. Despite its relative lack of use, the network is important to Google’s collection of social data on its users. Google+ was redesigned in April 2012. Google launched a Google+ app for Android phones and iPhones in May 2012 and a tablet app the following month. Google makes its users’ reviews, ratings, and +1′s available to advertisers through its “shared endorsements” program, launched in 2013.
Google Wave was released in beta in 2009 and allowed for some opportunities for collaborative reporting and other journalistic functions. The Seattle Times, for example, used Google Wave to track developments in a 2009 manhunt in its area.
Google Buzz, a Twitter-like service integrated into Gmail, was launched in February 2010, receiving largely negative reviews from tech critics and users, many of them based on concerns about the feature’s automated sharing of users’ personal information. Google revamped Buzz within days, though use of the product still died down quickly. (It was shut down in late 2011.) As Google’s director of privacy put it in a blog post: “The launch of Google Buzz fell short of our usual standards for transparency and user control—letting our users and Google down.”
Despite that, the Federal Trade Commission filed a complaint against Google, claiming that Buzz used deceptive tactics with Google users and violated user privacy — violating, in turn, the FTC Act. In late March 2011, the parties announced a settlement. As part of the settlement agreement, Google agreed to obtain consumers’ consent before sharing their information with third parties and to implement a comprehensive privacy program to protect consumer data, which includes an independent review of Google privacy procedures that will take place once every two years.
Though Buzz was an exceptional case, Google often has been criticized for its inability to create widely used social applications, with some critics arguing that Google’s mission is more conducive to utility and functionality than to making social connections. In June 2011, however, Google launched another social layer, Google+, a Facebook-like system that focuses on users’ discrete “circles” of social contacts and promises “real-life sharing rethought for the web.”
Indeed, Google has shifted its emphasis to mobile technology in recent years, releasing an open-source mobile operating platform called Android in 2007, and developing numerous mobile apps including Google Maps Navigation.
Google News is an automated aggregator of news stories online. It is the most popular news site in the United States that does not produce any of its own content — and among the most popular news sites overall.
Google News was launched in 2002 by Krishna Bharat, largely in response to the events of 9/11/01, and has more than 70 editions in over 30 languages, indexing more than 50,000 news sources. It sends more than 1 billion clicks a month to news publishers worldwide, with 1 out of 6 web searches on Google now including a set of news results. In 2012, Google News results were viewed by about 1 billion unique users a week.
In 2004, Google added Google Alerts, a personalized notification system for news stories on a given topic. Google has also added personalized news sections. In 2009, it added a timeline feature, a “blog” label to distinguish between blog results and those from traditional media (it began to allow users to filter out blogs in 2011), and a Spotlight section to focus on in-depth journalism. It also added links to Wikipedia articles in its interface.
Despite its automated nature, observers have noted that Google News’ algorithm is not objective, and some have accused it of producing results that are politically skewed, largely because of its inclusion of nontraditional news sources. Google has kept its algorithm largely under wraps, but periodic public documents, particularly patent applications, have revealed aspects of it.
In addition to its work with aggregation, Google News has also experimented with automated narrative techniques. In September 2009, Google launched Fast Flip, a collection of photos of magazine and newspaper pages as they appear in print, as an attempt to recreate the experience of paging through a print magazine. Fast Flip aggregated content from at least 40 news organizations, and was the first Google initiative in which Google shared advertising revenue with publishers. Fast Flip was shut down in 2011.
In December 2009, Google News launched Living Stories, a project that aims to provide context to ongoing news stories by grouping all the stories on a news topic on a single page. The project, a collaboration with The New York Times and The Washington Post, ended in February 2010, though the Living Stories source code is now available for free online.
In 2010, Google News experimented with its first major human-powered news aggregation initiative, Editors’ Picks, and made it a permanent feature the next year. Google News also underwent its first major redesign in 2010, adding personalized interest areas and sourcing, as well as increased story-sharing capacity. In 2011, Google began integrating social media into an algorithm that determines the popularity of articles. Later that year, it launched Standout, which allowed news organizations to flag important stories.
Google launched “News Near You” in 2011, allowing smartphone users to get news near their location.
Largely because of Google News, Google has been called a “parasite,” a “vampire,” and a copyright violator by news organization executives and others, and it has been accused of profiting from news content created by others and taken free. Google and others counter that claim by point out that Google doesn’t sell ads on Google News, provides little of news organizations’ original content, and, ultimately, drives traffic to news sites.
Newspapers in several countries outside the U.S. have undertaken formal resistance to Google News. In 2012, the 150 newspapers in the Association of Newspapers in Brazil, representing 90% of that country’s market, pulled their content out of Google News. German officials have also passed a law that may limit Google News’ ability to aggregate news organizations’ stories there, and a 2013 French government report proposed a tax on collecting user data online, a law that would be aimed at Google. Google has paid Belgian and French newspaper publishers to resolve copyright disputes over indexing their stories, in the latter case, in the form of a digital innovation fund. Officials elsewhere in Europe have called for Google to make similar payments across the rest of the continent. In lieu of a settlement in Germany, the parliament there passed a law forcing aggregators such as Google to pay publishers for using their contents in results. Google also agreed to make Google News opt-in there as a result of the law.
After a conflict with Google over copyright concerns and a desire for Google to favor original news sources, the Associated Press briefly let its contract with Google expire in late 2009, giving rise to a “temporary detente” that resulted in AP stories’ absence from Google News. In August of 2010, however, the two organizations renewed their licensing agreement, and AP stories are once again regularly posted on Google News.
Google News allows subscription-based websites to be indexed on its pages through its First Click Free program, though that system has also allowed web-savvy readers to bypass a news organization’s online paywall. Google has adjusted the system to protect more paid news content online.
Google has articulated a desire to help professional news-gathering survive. Google’s model for online news, it has said, is based on improving news’ distribution, its presentation and engagement, and its ability to derive revenue from its audience. Former Google vice president Marissa Mayer has described the future of news as a “hypersonal news stream.” Google was reported in 2013 to be developing hyperlocal news services for its Google Now personalized mobile search program. In 2014, Google partnered with the news advertising group the Local Media Consortium, which had previously been in an exclusive partnership with Yahoo.
Google’s executives have said they see Google as a major media company in the future, but not a content creator. Google’s principal media value is in organizing, distributing, and advertising against that content, they have said. Because that value derives from original content created by news producers, however, some have called for Google to offer direct support to news organizations as, essentially, a form of reparations. And Google has partially acquiesced, partnering, for example, with the Knight Foundation and the International Press Institute to distribute nearly $5 million in Google-donated money to fund innovation projects. It also has a Google Media Tools site highlighting its journalistic tools such as Google Maps Engine and Google Fusion Tables.
Google has also begun developing paid-content systems for publishers, which have generally centered on the idea of online subscriptions. In February 2011, after much speculation, Google launched an all-in-one subscription plan called One Pass. The system, enabled by Google Checkout, charged publishers 10 percent for its use — significantly undercutting the 30 percent Apple charges for its own news subscription service, which it had announced the day before.
Newspapers began putting up paywalls with One Pass in September 2011, but the system was shut down in April 2012. It was replaced by a micropayments program under the Google Wallet service as well as Custom Surveys, a pay plan in which customers can access pages by answering survey questions, for which Google pays publishers. Digital First Media has experimented with Google surveys.
Google has also developed online advertising systems that allow publishers to continually adjust their advertising rates, and has made efforts to improve online display and multimedia advertising for news organizations. In 2008, it launched Google Ad Planner, a tool that connects online advertisers and publishers. For two years, Google also ran a program producing print ads for publishers. It ended that effort in January 2009.
In recent years, Google has come under increasing fire for often returning results to low-quality sites that quickly rework original news reporting or otherwise attempt to game the search system with inexpensive content, presumably at the expense of higher-quality content sites. In early 2011, Google updated its search algorithm to specifically penalize these types of sites, instantly draining some sites of traffic. Demand Media, however, was relatively unaffected, despite often being used as the poster child for content farming.
Google is by far the largest video hosting site on the web, serving more than 10 billion videos in an average month and reaching 1 billion monthly users in 2013. The site has never been confirmed to have made money for Google, however. The site has moved from a purely do-it-yourself ethic toward more professional, TV-like content, with increasing investments made in professional video channels. It launched paid subscriptions to particular channels in 2013, starting with about 30 channels, several of them focusing on how-to or children’s programming.
YouTube has given rise to both partnerships and tensions with traditional content providers. During the 2008 presidential campaign, YouTube partnered with CNN to produce debates in which users sent in questions for candidates, which were then reviewed and aired during CNN’s broadcast. (YouTube has since used the method for other political interviews, including one of President Barack Obama in 2010.) YouTube has also launched a News Near You feature that highlights locally produced news videos. Much of the content comes from local television stations with whom YouTube partners.
YouTube allows anyone to post news videos alongside professionals, which has encouraged citizen journalism, especially internationally. YouTube launched a channel to highlight citizen journalism in 2008 and has a News Feed and blog designed to highlight breaking news videos. Its news channel, which aggregates from a variety of news sources, had more than 21 million subscribers as of 2013. In early 2011, CitizenTube partnered with the social web curator Storyful to cover the Egyptian protests of the Arab Spring from an on-the-ground perspective. YouTube executives have said they have no plans to produce their own journalism.
In November 2009, YouTube launched YouTube Direct, a project in which Google offers free source code that allows news organizations to edit, review, and post videos sent in by readers. Al Jazeera used YouTube Direct to post videos of the 2010 Iraqi elections from around the country. It has also used the program to post crowdsourced video assignments. YouTube Direct added mobile app code for the iPhone and Android in 2010. YouTube is also working with a San Francisco television station to show how YouTube Direct can be used for news.
Content partnerships, however, can also be rivalries. Google was sued by the media conglomerate Viacom in 2007 over copyright infringement for allowing thousands of copyright-protected videos to be posted on the site. A federal judge threw out the suit in 2010.
YouTube has been notorious for the low quality of its comments, something it moved to improve in 2013 by tying comments to Google+.
YouTube has periodically become embroiled in censorship controversies. In 2012, it denied a U.S. government request to consider taking down an anti-Muslim video that had helped spur unrest in several countries. It did, however, ban the video in several other countries. The following year, it sued the Russian government over a law restricting content regarding drugs or suicide. It has also complied with private organizations’ censorship requests, even at times on dubious grounds. In 2013, it blocked a fan video of a crash at NASCAR’s request, though it soon unblocked the video.
A 2010 discussion between Ken Auletta and Jon Friedman about Google and the media:
The New England Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit investigative journalism project based at Boston University, the first such organization that covers local and regional issues. The Center was founded in 2009 and is funded by the university as well as a $400,000 Knight Foundation grant. The Center was staffed as of 2012 by four…