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Summary:

Google’s latest attempt to get more social is a redesign of Google News that adds a number of features, including the ability to share clusters of stories, and to vote on news sources. But is that what visitors to Google News really want from the service?

To its credit, Google continues to try and make its services more social, even though social media and social networking in general don’t seem to come easily to the search giant. In its latest move, the company has launched a major redesign of Google News that adds a number of features, including the ability to share clusters of news stories, and to vote on news sources, so that the service can customize what users see when they go to the home page. The intent seems to be to create a kind of personalized Google newspaper, but is that what users really want?

Google’s news page has had personalization features for some time, including the ability to create custom sections (and share them), as well as the ability to filter out certain topics from the default view. And Google has used a visitor’s location — if they sign in to Google and allow it to do so — to provide local news and weather as well. The new features take the site’s personalization and customization a step further, however, by allowing users to continually adjust the sources that Google is pulling from. And while a “recommended” section was part of the site before (along with other sections for world news, sports, etc.), now what the site calls “news for you” is a main portion of the page.

There’s no question that Google’s changes take the service even further into competition with the newspaper sites that it draws content from, a tension that has caused outbursts of rage from media moguls such as News Corp.’s Rupert Murdoch and former Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell, both of whom accuse the company of “stealing” content from publishers. If someone gets a personalized stream of relevant news from Google, will they be even less likely to visit a newspaper site? That’s the fear many media outlets have. And emphasizing local results is going to increase that tension, since local has so far been one of the areas that was relatively immune to Google’s dominance.

When it comes to some of the customization and social features, however, it’s worth wondering whether users of Google News even want those kinds of tools from Google (it seems that many do not, judging by the comments on this Nieman Journalism Lab post). On the customization front, the company has tried in the past to add similar features to its regular search pages without much success, including a “thumbs up” feature called Search Wiki that was later mothballed (or at least significantly remodeled), in part because of lack of use. Is news search fundamentally different in that sense from regular search?

Another open question is whether users will want to share the headlines that they see on Google via Twitter and Facebook, or whether they will choose to do that from the actual homepages of the sites those stories come from — or from social services like Digg, which is undergoing its own redesign in order to become more social, or services such as DailyMe. I know my own use of Google News consists primarily of skimming it for topics or headlines that interest me, which I then follow — I don’t want to customize my sources continually, nor do I necessarily want to share the clusters of stories it provides (to be honest, I get most of my news via Twitter anyway).

What might make the service a bit more interesting is if Google did what journalism professor Jay Rosen suggested on Twitter and provided a ranked list of the news sources that users decide to vote up or down. But that kind of opening of the kimono isn’t likely to come from Google. So do the new features in Google News appeal to you? Let us know in the comments. Meanwhile, here’s a video overview of the changes, which should be rolling out to Google users over the next week.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user arvindgrover

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  1. Yes, people want social news. They want it filtered by Facebook (by their social networks) and by LinkedIn (by user characteristics like education, industry, job level, etc.). Some wanted it filtered by Digg, until Digg’s user base became diffuse enough to make their filtering meaningless.

    BTW – For technical reason, Google News thinks a lot of San Franciscans live in Alameda. Have you seen a way to tell it otherwise?

  2. No, I don’t want social news – and if there’s anything I’d like to share I can copy and paste the link to a friend myself.

    That said – The worst part of this redesign is the abandonment of the equally sized columns, leaving tons of blank space and annoying one-liners for stories. I also don’t like that I can’t move things around or get rid of things in the right-hand column (ahem… weather and FIFA). The search bar to the left is also redundant (but many people said that when Google changed its appearance and they didn’t seem to care).

    Most of the comments I’ve seen about this are negative, and Google seems to be taking the Zuckerburg approach of “They’ll like it someday – the just don’t know it yet.”

    No Google – I DON’T LIKE IT. Some of the personalization is nice, but the functionality is gone. The news page is an absolute eyesore and I can no longer conveniently skim stories to find those that interest me (and I could always use the search bar to find stories on specific topics). I used to use Google News several times a day and I spent a lot of today lamenting how difficult it was to find a good source that would show me clear and concise snippets of the day’s news.

  3. Personally, I don’t care if it’s useful or wanted now. I just can clearly see the trend and the GN redesign is just a hint of the things to come. Yeah, I’m talking about a reader and tablet market. Expect more battles over the news copyrights.

  4. It is my thinking that social integration is actually essential to salvage the news industry on the internet, an already failing venture. Users need to be able to determine the best sources and a variety of them as well. Too often with Google News we get either a bunch of listings with the same story or one source dominating the feed. The ability to vote can drastically improve this feature and while a rankings system may seem the most viable option from afar, Google can simply use how you think to affect the overall displayed results.

    We also have to remember, and news sources on the internet are quickly learning this, that Google is simply a gateway. It is simply a means to access your product. Google is not to blame for headline skimming or reading one sentence to understand the gist of a story. That lies with the product. What are news sources doing to bring me to their site? What are they doing to keep me there? What interactivity is there for me to enjoy?

    I see Google stepping into the social sector as simply a means for others to follow. Being the trailblazer that it is, Google is willing to take the risks/experiments to see what works and help others apply their successes. It is the news sources who need to innovate and it has been their failure and stubbornness to do so that has left them only making money in the print world to date.

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  6. This latest redesign of Google News is terrible and has crippled what was once a valuable resource. It’s a real shame, because Google News once used to be one of the best news services out there.

    http://alexwhite.org/2010/07/google-news-has-destroyed-a-valuable-asset/

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